This Vancouver mentorship program helps students get unrivalled experience

Jan 30 2018, 7:17 am

There’s no denying it, competition is high for graduates looking to join the workforce. Yet there’s one thing that still impresses employers, and has done so through the ages: Experience.

Since 1999, the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade has been running the Leaders of Tomorrow (LOT) mentorship program which connects top post-secondary students with leading industry professionals. It gives students an insight into their prospective future career and in order to get accepted, they must go through – you guessed it – a competitive selection process.

But it’s totally worth it, because participating students get to enjoy accelerated personal and professional growth. To give you an even better understanding of the program, we spoke with the chair of LOT, Ray LeBlond, who is also the director of marketing and communications at Vancouver’s professional consulting firm, Stantec.

Can you tell us about your work with the LOT mentorship program?

I have been a LOT mentor for four years, and am now chair of the program’s Advisory Board. The students I have been paired with have all been driven, highly intelligent, and excited about the challenges of the program, as well as the challenges upcoming in their careers.  In reality, I would say less than half of what the students and I have discussed is specific to career planning – it has been more “bigger picture”.

Who is the mentorship program open to?

Leaders of Tomorrow (LOT) is geared to students going into the final year of post-secondary or graduate education at accredited institutions in the Lower Mainland. Students need to be able to meet the graduation requirements of the program, which include meeting with their mentor five to seven times, attending five GVBOT events, and actively participating on one of the core committees. Beyond that, candidates should truly see themselves as someone who can offer leadership, whether they do currently or are hoping to further develop this as a personal attribute.

What steps are involved in the application process?

There are a few steps, but this allows different ways in the process for candidates to shine. The online application provides an opportunity for each candidate to express what they are looking to gain from the program, and highlight their volunteerism to date – an important pillar of community engagement.

There is also a “speed” interview event, where candidates meet with several mentors and are evaluated on their responses to several questions related to the principles of the program.

How can mentors benefit from the LOT program? Are all mentors Board of Trade members?

Mentors are Greater Vancouver Board of Trade members with incredibly varied backgrounds, holding positions from small business entrepreneur to corporate executive. In my personal discussion with mentors, the overwhelming benefit from being part of LOT is giving back and creating positive experiences for young people as they start out in life and their careers. Mentors often relate it to their own experience earlier in their careers when someone took the time to be interested and provide guidance.

However, many mentors have also expressed that they are surprised by how much they learn from the students – it really helps people gain a deeper perspective and can even influence how they deal with their own colleagues back at work.

What are the main elements that participants take away from this experience?

More specific goals are to assist students in developing their career, helping set job goals, getting more familiar with business settings and building confidence – including skills such as confidence in conversation. The networking opportunities provided by the Board of Trade also help establish useful connections. However, since LOT began in 1999, it has become clear that mentorship programs can offer much more than just career support – the students are typically just starting to make harder decisions in their lives, and mentors can be impartial listeners and sometimes sharing their personal experience is as valuable as sharing their professional advice.

Can the program help students fast track their career growth?

As an employer, it’s hard to see how an LOT graduate wouldn’t generate more interest as a job applicant, given the program’s reputation. However, I think a more hopeful goal is that LOT students are all better positioned to find success in their lives, in whatever way they will define it for themselves.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering taking part in the LOT program?

The advice I would give to a student considering the LOT program is pretty basic – to get full value, you have to be fully committed and be prepared to drive the process. Based on the feedback I have received from participating students over the years, it’s totally worth it.

For potential mentors, you will learn from this experience. And it’s totally worth it.

To find out more about the LOT mentorship program, visit the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade now.

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