Carole Issekya, talent advisor and member of Randstad Canada’s immigrant/refugee employee resource group, had a meaningful discussion with Doug Piquette, Executive Director at Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council (ERIEC). Doug is an impassioned warrior for diversity and inclusion and, for the past 8 years, has used mentorship as a way to ensure professional development for our international community when they become newcomers in Canada. Learn more about this fantastic organization and the advice he has for future Mentors and Mentees.

doug piquette interview immigrant mentorship
doug piquette interview immigrant mentorship

carole: why don't you start by telling us a little about yourself and how you got involved with ERIEC and what it is.

Doug: ERIEC is the Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council, and I'm the founding director we started back in 2008, and really in response at the time. I think we were going through a fairly high point in the economic cycle and there was a real outcry for recruitment and Canadian companies were recruiting all over the world. 

At that time here in Edmonton there were recruitment offices for different companies in Spain and Colombia, all over the place and it was, it seemed to be the norm, then somebody had gone to a conference out east and had run into an organization called Toronto Regional Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC). which was sort of the flagship organization in Canada, and so they were part of a community of practice right across Canada there's immigrant employment councils from Vancouver, right over to Halifax, and not all organizations in the immigrant employment Council family offer mentorship programmes, but several do, and some are dedicated to implementing mentorship programs. 

carole: what type of mentorship does ERIEC offer? 

Doug: In our case in Edmonton and as well in Calgary ERIEC  offers a Career Mentorship programme. We also provide a networking delivery mechanism. The Career Mentorship is one on one peer-to-peer mentoring. So, accountants with accountants, Engineers. Engineers etc.

So, it's a dedication of about 24 hours over four months, which includes 16 hours of coffee time, so you know, an hour of coffee a week online and basically sharing mutual goals. 

carole: why is it important to pair people from the same industry? 

Doug: It’s not important, but we want to provide a targeted service so that the mentor has goals coming into the relationship as well as the mentee, typically the mentee is obviously looking for work in their field,  but also looking at some of the other systemic barriers, which was one of the reasons why we created the mentorship programme in the first place, so that the issues many immigrants face whether it's language, or understanding the Canadian business culture, and the big one that a lot of people hear is that they do not have the Canadian experience needed to start working. 

With the help of a mentor, you have somebody kind of guiding you and then also an insider, that provides you with some perspectives on what they see on the inside of their industry and they might be able to provide avenues that help them navigate success without wasting too much time with aimless applications. 

carole: how important is networking via a mentor for the mentee? 

Doug: On the networking side but basically I always say, what we do for work is ultimately strategically convening people whether it's a one on one mentorship relationship or a larger group encounter with let's say employers, or maybe an HR panel, or maybe a specific sectoral theme. Career networking is important, especially for newcomers. 

We have a connector programme we also have an annual conference called the Alberta global talent conference, all of those larger initiatives are basically to get bring people into forums where they can hear some of the best practices, tips on how to prepare how to put yourself in, I guess the best alignment for a job interview. The classic example for many immigrants as I hear is, you know I put out 3000 applications and I didn't get an interview, 

So if you're more strategic, you may be using a rifle as opposed to a shotgun, I hate to use that analogy you know, but the rifle might be more specific and more focused, and you may be able to hit the object that you're actually looking for instead of trying to apply a broad stroke. 

carole: what advice do you have for people wanting to step into the unknown of mentorship? 

Doug: I think a big part of what we do in terms of getting people ready for our mentorship programme is coaching, expectations on both sides, but on the Mentee side a lot of people come into our programme, thinking that they're going to find work right away, and it makes sense I mean you're with a mentor or somebody who's already working and experienced and may have the social capital to help you find work, but we actually try to manage those expectations. 

Both the Mentor and Mentee need to realize that it's really the journey, not the end goal, because the end goal will be whatever you put into this programme. At the end of the day, it's about how you strategize successfully so that both the metro and mentee learn the landscape and then hone strategies towards, ultimately a managed goal and for our mentees, it’s acquiring a long-term career here in Canada. 

carole: what kind of mentors have you received over the last couple of years? has the scope changed at all? 

Doug: I would say that, you know, there has been a real change since I started back in 2008, what I've seen is, especially people that have been part of our database of mentors, people who have been repeating mentors have been learning and have expanded their vocabulary as well as their network when it comes to being successful at mentorship, they have become a little bit better with more mentorship experiences, they have sometimes better more expansive questions and suggestions. 

Managing career change and transferable skills so that vocabulary expanded over the years when we saw these up and down cycles in the economy, people were coming to Canada coming to Edmonton and not finding sometimes the work that they wanted, so the mentors have expanded their vocabulary to help mentees consider their transferable skills and not stay stagnant in one industry. 

From a social point of view, you get a chance to meet somebody who, in many cases, is in our programme. These people once they're through with the programme and so, you know 24 hours over four months sounds like a lot, but once a week for a coffee discussion for 16 hours goes by quickly. We find the social benefit which means a lot to our clients, after they finished with their mentor, usually, they carry on with that relationship, it's not mandated that they just do building a network of intercultural friendships

carole: what do you believe makes a key attribute to a mentor? 

Doug: Mentors aren't there just to provide answers to Mentee questions, don't expect your mentor to provide you with the answers to your life. I think a really good mentor is going to ask the right questions of the mentee, and, and get you to think about how you're going to take your next steps. 

It helps if this mentor has a broader sort of vision of what's going on in the economy, or in the sector and that they represent so their information is accurate and helpful, not suggestive for no reason, but given with intention. 

The understanding that the Mentor is a sounding board really what we need is somebody to help us lay out some of the obstacles, you know the pros and cons and help us think out, systematically, how we can get to where we can make a decision for our own lives

carole: how would you say that companies such as ours can energize our workforce to seek companies like yours and to seek mentorship? 

Doug: This is an extremely intrinsic and valuable experience we offer to the business community, so we understand too that there's a business case to this so it's not just about charity and giving back or paying it forward, which is what we would ask Randstad staff to do. 

This is really important work, we also offer intercultural education through NorQuest college once a month so that's another piece that's free, and it talks about emotional intelligence, diversity and inclusion. Basically, a lot of this, the kind of training that we should be looking at within our own companies. It can make a difference in people's lives, having a deep understanding of diversity and inclusion, some cultural intelligence, emotional intelligence. We hope that companies teach this in their organizations before encouraging people to take up this type of mentorship. 

Here is a very pragmatic way to get some of that experience without having to pay for it other than your time and having the blessing of being part of a great organization that also supports another organization that is also helping your career trajectory and abilities so I would say be enthusiastic and encouraging. 

carole: what benefits can companies like us gain from this experience? 

Doug: What Randstad gains from this what the employee gains from this is basically building leadership, internally, and also building your career track so that in the future you can actually use that as cache to move up within your company, you now have a lot of experience working with internationally trained professionals, and helping them, in that journey of finding the careers, and that's huge. 

The other benefit is soft recruitment. Here, you get a chance to test drive some of this talent pool that's extraordinary that many people may not see. So, vicariously through our programme, you get a chance to see this person again, you're not there to provide them with a job, but it doesn't preclude you from not seeing some talent saying hey, yeah, there may be something in it for you here at Randstad, or maybe some of our connections.

From a social point of view, you get a chance to meet somebody who, in many cases, is in our programme. These people once they're through with the programme and so, you know 24 hours over four months sounds like a lot, but once a week for a coffee discussion for 16 hours goes by quickly. We find the social benefit which means a lot to our clients, after they're finished with their mentor, usually, they carry on with that relationship. It's not mandated that they just do building a network of intercultural friendships

carole: what are three pieces of advice would you give to future mentors? 

Doug: Well, you know a lot of people when we approach them. A lot of people are shy young and old, they are quick to say ‘I'm not experienced in this,’ or ‘I don't think I have enough experience to be a mentor.’ 

My advice to them would be, we all have experience; you've been in the Canadian workforce, you have experience to share. It may not be a CEO's experience, you may not even be a person who's got, lots of years of experience, leave that aside, I think that what you have is you, and you are unique and have something to share so just focus on that. 

Do your research, learn for yourself what it means to become a mentor, what are the qualities of a good mentor, I think we have to not overlook that point. You know I can help a lot of people, maybe find them all work, but at the end of the day, do they have the skill sets now to help themselves? mentorship is about some self-discovery about what your capabilities are so make sure you research how that applies to you and how you can use that skillset to apply to others. 

I think, so there's that being careful about our approaches, to become a good and skilled mentor I think included in that is active listening, work on becoming good at listening, I find that through active listening you'll find that you'll discover your own answers. 

Lastly,  Mentoring is fun! I mean it's work, for sure, but it's fun if you are someone who likes to meet new people, then getting to know people is a purposeful kind of relationship. It's got a mutual goal in mind and so it can be a lot of fun, it will be a lot of hard work in terms of planning and goal setting and accountability, but approach it with fun, depending on what you put into it, if you don't put anything into it then that's what you're going to get back so have fun with it. 

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