Brenda Desjardins of TELUS and Serbian immigrant Dejan Ciric smile at one of their mentorship meetings

Connecting immigrants to success

Brenda Desjardins of TELUS and Serbian immigrant Dejan Ciric smile at one of their mentorship meetings

Dejan Ciric and his family arrived in Calgary in January 2013. They travelled over 8,000 km from their home in Belgrade, Serbia to build a new life for themselves and their three young children.

The Cirics were looking for a safe city with a good education system. They knew they wanted to immigrate to Canada and heard from friends, and through their own research, that Calgary would be the best place for them.

With his economics degree and years of experience as an analyst for multinational companies across Europe, Dejan was confident he would be able to find a job here. But he wasn’t prepared for the difficulties he would face.

“Everything is different – from resumes to cover letters to the way people communicate,” says Dejan. He was forced to take on a variety of “survival jobs”: delivering pizza, doing casual labour, whatever he could to keep his family afloat.

It was a dark time for the Cirics as they started to question their move.

Dejan began taking classes to improve his English and communication skills. He then heard about the Calgary Region Immigrant Employment Council (CRIEC), which matches skilled immigrants to mentors in Calgary’s professional community. Dejan signed up for the program and soon had his first meeting with Brenda Desjardins, a field leader at TELUS. The pair met once a week to talk about everything from culture to soft skills to managing in a Canadian work environment. Brenda also walked Dejan through job postings in his field, how to write an impactful resume and cover letter and what the interview process would be like.

To Dejan, the meetings were invaluable.

“I found that one-on-one mentoring was the only true way for me to understand,” Dejan says. “Brenda explained how I needed to communicate. She taught me more than I ever learned sitting in a classroom all day with no feedback.”

But Brenda is quick to point out their relationship is a two-way street. “I thought adding one more role to my life would bring stress, but it actually helps balance stress in our lives, because we get to do something that’s so gratifying.”

Brenda was the first mentor from TELUS enrolled in the CRIEC program. She says there are now 20 mentors on board and it is launching across all regions for TELUS.

“You really feel like you’re getting back more than you’re giving,” Brenda says.

CRIEC is just one example of the new initiatives and resources that have been developed through the Shell Immigrant Employment Project. The Project has left a legacy of better supports for new Canadians like Dejan. In 2007, Shell gave United Way of Calgary and Area a $1.8 million grant to enhance meaningful employment for immigrants.

Existing immigrant services have been strengthened and improved, gaps in service have been filled and immigrant-serving agencies are working more collaboratively.

“When newcomers can plug into local employment opportunities, it benefits everyone,” says Lucy Miller, President and CEO of United Way of Calgary and Area. Miller also says this project is a powerful example of corporate and social collaboration in our city.

Best of all, 797 skilled immigrants are now working at meaningful jobs as a result of the Shell Immigrant Employment Project, including Dejan. After over a year in Calgary, he landed a job in his field as a pricing analyst. He started work last month and says he couldn’t be happier.

“This has helped me build a better future for myself and my family.”

Felicia Pacentrilli is a Media & Communications Advisor at United Way of Calgary and Area.