Mentors bridge the gap

On Saturday, Jan. 24, York University hosted its 15th Annual Mentorship Work Search Workshop, a key segment of the year-long 2004 Learning Disabilities Mentorship Program for York students with learning disabilities. “It is a way for students to connect with the public and private sectors to gain valuable insight and skills that will increase their chances of obtaining employment in their chosen profession,” said Jayne Greene-Black, coordinator of the program and a counsellor in the Learning Disabilities Program (LDP) at York University.

Twenty-four mentors met with 24 York students for a day of informative guest speakers and special presentations. “Interpersonal skills consultants and coaches presented on topics that included self-esteem development and job interviewing skills,” said Greene-Black. “Human resources specialists and recruiters also presented on how students could fine-tune their job search skills.”

Over the years, Greene-Black has built up a network of mentors – professionals and business representatives willing to advise students, near graduation, about working in their career fields. Mentors include entrepreneurs of multi-million-dollar businesses, high-level business executives, police officers, teachers, artists and other professionals. This year, mentors from IBM, the Ontario Provincial Police, government ministries and Guardian Capital took part in the workshop.

“Over the years the list has grown and diversified and it is quite exhaustive!” explained Greene-Black. “Some of our York graduates from the LDP have been eager to ‘give back’ to the program and to York students with learning disabilities by becoming mentors themselves. These successful role models for students with learning disabilities bring unique knowledge and experience about how to accommodate learning disabilities and be successful in a career.”

Other elements of York’s Learning Disabilities Mentorship Program include motivational speakers and coaching on a variety of topics that enhance career development. Sometimes having a learning disability can seem daunting when making the move from a university environment to full- or part-time work. The program was designed to speak to this concern. “I am happy to report that it has proven valuable to many students in developing new skills, confidence and insight, as well as in finding out about new hidden work-related opportunities. It is all very encouraging and inspirational,” said Greene-Black.

Following the workshop, one of the students participants said, “The professionals were interesting and very inspiring. They helped clarify how to achieve all the goals I am hoping to get to. The program gave me an opportunity to get feedback and to experiment in a safe environment.” 

Another student described the workshop sessions as being very valuable. “I learned a lot about job search and people with learning disabilities. It is a good idea to have different mentors speaking and sharing experiences.”

Here are some examples of what mentors can do:

  • help students to be positive and have hope despite current labour market conditions;
  • discuss ways for students to establish, maintain, and improve self-confidence;
  • alert students to their organization’s value and goals;
  • share personal or unique experiences and career paths with students;
  • offer a human face to an organization;
  • provide constructive feedback to students;
  • offer an opportunity for information exchange from an industry contact;
  • introduce students to other employment contacts;
  • discuss ways to obtain career information;
  • give pamphlets and other company literature to students;
  • set up work shadowing opportunities for students;
  • give students feedback on their interviewing skills;
  • help students network more effectively.

Visit the Counselling & Development Centre Web site for more information on the program.