“Be interested in your mentees and be honest with them”.
James Strasman’s empathy for newcomers comes from his personal experience. In 1964, as a young architect he went looking for a job in Switzerland. “I can still remember carrying my drawings around and trying to make myself understood in German, Italian and French.” An architect by profession, he believes in giving back to his Profession. “Being a mentor gets me credit with the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) but beyond that,” I simply enjoy helping serious and talented people achieve their dreams and full potential.”
“I empathize with foreign trained, non-English speaking young people trying to find a job. They are all so intelligent and energetic that my heart goes out to them.” He mentors them to write a good resume, introductory letter and how to present themselves to a prospective employer. “What an employer is looking for and how best to convey what newcomers have to offer to the person reading their material is important in our profession.”
As the Principal at Strasman Architects Inc., Jim tries to pass on his professional knowledge to his mentees. He explains the differences in building systems in Canada and other countries and refers his mentees to professional publications, encouraging them to become proficient in Computer platforms such as AutoCAD, Revit and Micro Station. “It is important for them to find some way to get their foot in the door. After that it is up to them to prove to their employer how good they are. Initiative is very important.”
Jim is very proud of the accomplishments of his mentees and says it is a top moment every time the mentee finds meaningful employment. “I mentored a group of five Spanish speaking Architects from five different Latin American countries and they all found work.” He has also found some very good talent to work for him from his mentee pool. One of my mentees he explained “is in a very responsible position at the building department at the City of Toronto; making a valuable contribution in the area of energy conservation and daylighting.”
Talking about his takeaways from the partnerships, he says, “I think the thing that stands out in my mind the most is how ill prepared for the North American job market they all are. I get the sense also that someone at their end may have fed them the line that “You have a professional Degree, you should have no trouble finding a job” and that is often not the case.
The other thing is that all of them need to find a paying job in order to survive, to support their families and allow them to carry their head high. This is not possible if you graduated with a degree in architecture, engineering or planning and often and often they take survival jobs work as clerks in a store. “Recently,” he says, “my mentee who had a PHD degree from a Westminster College in London, England applied for a clerk’s position. She did not put down the fact that she had a PHD because she was afraid they would tell her she was over qualified. This is a sad commentary on the reality many skilled immigrants face.” All of the mentees that I have had the pleasure of mentoring are all proud, intelligent, and beautiful people and deserve a chance” he adds.
Jim relies on his contacts in the industry to find interviews for his mentees, so they get a chance to demonstrate their talents. He uses his profession-related resources such as reference books, drawings, experiences and examples of others who have gone through the same process, to support his mentees.
From his first partnership to the most recent partnership, “nothing much has changed,” he says. “The challenges are always the same. The only differences are the individuals – their- their talents and their determination.”
His top three tips to a new mentor? Listen to your mentees and try to understand them. Be interested in them and, be honest with them. Second, be helpful; take advantage of your knowledge and connections in the industry and use them to help your mentees. Lastly, be a friend.