Exploring the pros and cons of Canada’s mentoring programs – TRU Newsroom

Exploring the pros and cons of Canada’s mentoring programs – TRU Newsroom

June 26, 2024 at 2:39 pm  Education, Kamloops, News

Story by Elise Fenwick

Luck. It’s what immigrants must often rely on to succeed professionally in Canada.

Stacked CVs and years of experience don’t necessarily propel capable newcomers to employment in the fields they worked so hard to access in their home countries. 

Why? The answer is complex, but Vivi Zhang’s research into immigrant employment and workplace inclusion illuminates some factors causing immigrants to struggle with successful and commensurate Canadian employment. 

Assistant Professor Vivi Zhang, Bob Gaglardi School of Business and Economics

Zhang, assistant professor in the Bob Gaglardi School of Business and Economics at Thompson Rivers University (TRU), approaches the issue of immigrant employment with a multi-faceted lens as she herself is an immigrant who had a uniquely positive experience in the Canadian labour market. 

“I was lucky to get a Canadian education and pursue my career the way I wanted to after coming to Canada,” says Zhang. “However, the labour market integration of immigrants is a great challenge for Canada.” 

Zhang hopes that her research — which was recently published in the Journal of International Migration and Integration under the title Pre-Employment Mentoring Programs and Immigrant Labor Market Integration” — provides insights into the issue and helps organizations make positive changes.

The article, co-authored by Zhang and Luciara Nardon, assistant professor at Carleton University and co-director of the Centre for Research on Inclusion at Work, looks at Canada’s pre-employment mentoring programs and critically examines their benefits and challenges. 

Pre-employment mentoring programs 

Federally funded immigrant-serving organizations (ISO) are mandated to provide settlement and integration services to immigrants to Canada.

“ISOs play an important role in helping immigrants become integrated into the labor market by providing services such as pre-employment mentoring programs,” says Zhang. 

Amy Verhey, Employment Program co-ordinator with Kamloops Immigrant Services (KIS), explains that for many immigrants, the biggest advantage of these mentoring programs is having someone who can help guide them in the right direction towards their desired profession. 

“It can be challenging for newcomers to gauge which career path and certifications or trainings will be beneficial for them,” says Verhey. “Additionally, labour market research assists them in finalizing a sustainable employment goal and working towards it.” 

Verhey also cites networking connections accessed through the mentor-mentee relationships, basic skill development such as language and computer acumen, as well as honest feedback and reflection from mentors as truly valuable assets inherent in pre-employment mentor programs.

“We (KIS) are connecting and partnering with other available mentorship programs offered province-wide to supplement and help fill the gaps of mentors for our clients in employment-related contexts,” says Verhey.

Research and approach 

Zhang’s research focuses specifically on formal mentoring programs offered by selected corporate and professional mentoring programs in Ontario.

Formal mentoring programs connect professionals and employers with immigrants in order to not only help improve job readiness, but also expose professionals and employers to newcomer talent, according to Zhang.

To truly understand the role of pre-employment mentoring programs in immigrant labour market integration, Zhang and Nardon explored perceived benefits and challenges as well as factors contributing to these challenges and outcomes. The research used multiple data sets including surveys, semi-structured interviews and archives. 

“The diverse data helped me make sense of participants’ experiences and understand the context of pre-employment mentoring programs,” says Zhang of the study, which drew on qualitative data from five pre-employment mentoring programs organized by two ISOs in Ontario. “For example, I interviewed fifteen immigrants who were protégés of the programs to learn about their experiences and perspectives.” 

“I also interviewed staff members of immigrant-serving organizations who oversaw and facilitated the programs, to understand their perspectives.”

Findings and implications 

Zhang’s research suggests that pre-employment mentoring programs have the potential to support immigrant labour market integration and benefit multiple stakeholders such as immigrants, mentors, employers and ISOs in different ways. However, she explains that the program faces a series of challenges including mentor-protégé mismatches, perceived lack of commitment to the mentoring relationships and unmet expectations. 

“After interviewing many immigrants,” says Zhang, “I realized that although Canada’s support programs are really trying to help these immigrants, they are not actually achieving their intended goals because of many different barriers.” 

Verhey echoes Zhang’s findings. 

“For our (Kamloops) community, there have been challenges with finding mentors,” says Verhey. “Other challenges include client motivation, different levels of mentor-mentee expertise, multi-barrier clients and openness to transferability in that some immigrants have transferable skills, but they are not open to opportunities in other sectors.”

The reality seems to be that while some immigrants are benefiting from pre-employment mentoring relationships, others are not as fortunate. 

“The mentoring programs’ reliance on volunteering and stakeholders’ varying understanding and expectations of mentoring contributes to these challenges and results in inconsistent mentoring outcomes, and this limits their (ISO’s) ability to offer services tailored to immigrants’ professional backgrounds and needs,” says Zhang. 

Going forward 

Zhang is currently in the midst of publishing two further research papers including a literary review on international mentoring and an empirical paper focusing on the theoretical contributions of pre-employment mentoring. She hopes that her findings will help improve the efficacy of pre-employment mentoring programs and thus support immigrant integration into Canada’s labour market.

“Our research is really meant to expose the challenges and issues inherent in pre-employment mentoring programs as well as provide suggestions for improvements,” says Zhang. “We analyze the data and provide suggestions that policy makers and organizations can use as they work together to improve programs and support immigrant success.”

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