When the City of Toronto launched a mentorship program in 2004, it took an experimental approach. One-half of the 29 mentors only went online while the other half met face to face with protegés, also using supplemental phone calls and emails. It made for an interesting recognition ceremony at the end of the year, as many of the mentors and mentees met each other for the first time, said Cheryl Ogle, a program assistant at the staffing, workforce transition and employment equity division at the City of Toronto.
But going forward, the organization decided to take the in-person approach, to get more bang for the buck, she said.
“People need that one-on-one (time) more, it kind of cemented friendships,” said Ogle. “To me, part of a mentoring program isn’t just about networking to find a job, it’s about networking to meet other people and giving them a place in our society.”
By 2010, the mentoring program at the City of Toronto had progressed to include 120 volunteers from 16 different professions, with 75 repeat mentors, who have mentored more than 500 skilled immigrants.
“It’s evolved into a much more widespread type of program, where it’s not necessarily just about the organization, the City of Toronto, but people who work for the City of Toronto doing it on their own time,” said Ogle. “It’s not just a work program, it touches all aspects of their life.”
That dedication was recognized recently by the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) as the City of Toronto along with four other employers — TD Bank Financial Group, Deloitte, KPMG and Scotiabank — were honoured as leaders in mentor recruitment. Each has been involved with the council’s Mentoring Partnership to bring together recent skilled immigrants with established professionals in occupation-specific mentoring relationships — and the five have collectively mentored more than 1,500 newcomers.
Instead of honouring individuals, TRIEC changed its recognition this year to honour organizations.
“We decided we wanted to recognize some of the key corporate partners that had really excelled in their achievements and in reaching the goals that they’d set,” said Elizabeth McIsaac, executive director at TRIEC. “It was a little difficult to objectively determine who should be mentor of the year. Everyone has a fantastic story.”
The top performer was TD Bank, a founding partner of the Mentoring Partnership. The organization has been incredibly supportive, not just with money but with internal champions who enlist as mentors themselves and encourage colleagues to come onboard, she said.
As a result, TRIEC has to do very limited outreach when it’s time to find mentors each year.
“The names come flying in,” said McIsaac. “They’ve hit over 700 mentoring matches to date in the last five years so that’s pretty impressive and we’re just delighted.”
Deloitte has been onboard since the beginning of the Mentoring Partnership and has had more than 250 mentor matches, said McIsaac.
Having started as an organic, word-of-mouth program, Deloitte’s mentorship program now includes information sessions held a couple of times a year to promote the program and give people an opportunity to hear about the work involved and the options available.
“Time commitment is a big consideration, especially in our business when people work on client sites, and there’s uncertainty in terms of where you’ll be working,” said Marta Rzeszowska Chavent, senior manager of quality and risk management at Deloitte in Toronto.
But mentees are usually flexible with their time because they’re in job search mode and the two can compliment face-to-face visits with phone calls or emails.
“You don’t have to be tied down to a certain schedule or formula,” she said.
Over the last few years, the organization has also sent out tips or suggestions to its pool of mentors and it hopes to do more regular newsletters for mentors internally and connect them. So far, Deloitte’s program has only been offered in the Greater Toronto Area but this year it would like to pilot a few other locations and see how that works, potentially for a national roll-out, said Chavent.
The most successful mentoring organizations are those where HR owns the program and promotes it in different ways, said McIsaac. Sometimes it’s about soft recruitment outreach, to see who’s out there.
“More broadly, there is an awareness and recognition that mentoring is a great leadership development opportunity for your high-potential performers. And, as you have your managers and your senior team managing cross-cultural teams and diverse teams, this is a really great professional development opportunity around their cross-cultural competencies.”
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