Real Stories: IEC-BC's Mentoring Program In Action

By IEC-BC  |  March 30, 2012

When Kassie Sambaraju arrived in Canada, she was on the outside looking in.

It's been 20 months since the veteran research assistant with the short dark curls said goodbye to her family in Bangalore India. She left a comfortable position back home, working in the social development sector, to start anew in an unfamiliar city.

A move this bold exemplifies the kind of confidence you'd expect from a seasoned professional with a management degree, a masters in science and a desire to build thriving communities. But when Kassie arrived in Canada, her ambition was met with disappointment.

"Coming here, I feel underutilized," says Kassie with a measure of patience befitting her research background. "I had a good position back home. Here, the pay is lower and it's very frustrating to find the right job."

In Bangalore, Kassie had a substantial personal and professional network - something many of us take for granted. A strong network is not an easy thing to discard, but for Kassie, it was a reasonable exchange for the opportunity to live and work abroad.

"It's just that I know the job markets back in India, and I don't have a network here - that's the only difference," says Kassie, who's fluency in English is not betrayed by her southern Indian accent.

"As a newcomer, there are very limited programs with organizations that help me build these networks and it's somehow harder to make friends and connections in Vancouver," adds Kassie. "I've talked to other newcomers and they feel the same way."

But despite Kassie's concerns about the local job market, her face doesn't show it. When asked about her frustrations, Kassie preferred to call them challenges yet to be overcome - challenges she didn't have to deal with, back home.

It's a familiar story. Skilled immigrants entering the province struggle in the labour market and are often under-employed despite a growing skills and labour shortage in BC.

But with help from her new mentor, Kassie's confidence has been restored.

Four months ago, Kassie signed up for a mentoring program delivered through the Immigrant Services Society of BC and coordinated by the Immigrant Employment Council of BC. The program works with employers and immigrant serving agencies to match skilled newcomers with mentors who are Canadian-born and currently employed. Kassie was matched with Patrick Tobin, Regional Executive Director for Canada Heritage, who recently spent three months traveling in India.

"When we met, we quickly realized that we had things in common," says Patrick, who has been with the federal government for 11 years. "We share a desire to contribute to the public good and I found it really interesting that a person as talented as Kassie was looking for work in public service, and not for the obvious reasons such as job security and good compensation, but really because she feels she can give back and contribute through government."

Kassie and Patrick meet roughly once every two weeks at Library Square, among students, families and business people. An appropriate setting to frame a relationship born out of a growing need to strengthen community connections, as BC's population becomes increasingly diverse.

"Our relationship evolved over time," says Patrick with a chuckle. "We moved through many stages and talked about public service hiring, how job postings are structured and discussed Canadian workplace norms."

Kassie would often present a specific opportunity, and they would work on it together. Patrick would reach out to his network of contacts, provide glowing introductions and request intelligence on specific organizations, on her behalf.

"Seeing the arrival experience through Kassie's eyes has taught me a lot," says Patrick. "There are some very pervasive perceptions about immigrants on the part of employers, who have a tendency to discount immigrant labour."

What began as a professional relationship eventually grew into a friendship that included social outings, where they introduced their significant others over dinner.

"He's a very kind person. He's always there to help me," says Kassie with an infectious smile. "And I am glad that this mentoring process has helped me see these 'hidden' or 'unspoken' rules in the job market - and I feel more grounded in my job search."

With renewed vigor, Kassie now feels comfortable picking up the phone to call an employer, whether it be to seek information or schedule an information interview.

"Do you know the expression 'priceless confidence'," Kassie asked with the poise of a college professor. "That's what Patrick has given me - it has been empowering. I now have the fishing skills to fish," she said with a hearty laugh.