Manitoba Needs Programs like BUILD

A version of this article was published in the Winnipeg Free Press January 11, 2022

By Anne Lindsey

Just before the holidays, BUILD, Inc. announced the closure of its training program upon the breakdown of funding negotiations with the Provincial Government. BUILD (Building Urban Industries for Local Development) is a social enterprise. Its vision is to work with folks who struggle to be employed and launch them into a path of employment and betterment. BUILD seeks contracts and work opportunities that will be profitable enough to pay wages and help fund the supportive aspects of its training programs. Because the educational components are demanding, BUILD looks for additional funds to support them fully. That money has come from the Province and the Federal government.

BUILD has been in place for some 16 years. During that time, it produced remarkable results. Its educational programs, on-the-job training in trades, and wrap-around support make BUILD a beacon of hope in Winnipeg’s North End. On top of all this, BUILD has been instrumental in retrofit projects for water conservation and home insulation, thus providing greenhouse gas reductions and bill relief for lower-income householders.

The barriers BUILD participants face include extreme poverty, intergenerational trauma, previous incarceration, addictions, single parenthood, child welfare systems, gang involvement, systemic discrimination and more, in varying combinations. We can add the realities of the pandemic and inflation, which have only amplified the struggles of people who were already disadvantaged. These situations make people give up on traditional education systems and make it very hard to get a job. Homelessness, crime, substance abuse and recidivism often produce a vicious circle of problems. Many people in these circumstances have likewise been written off by the rest of society. We see the results in heartbreaking headlines every single day.

But there’s evidence that these folks want to work and support their families. When a new program was offered in 2018, the lineup of people waiting to apply stretched around the building at the Social Enterprise Centre on Main Street. People want to be housed. People want to contribute to society and share in its benefits. In short, they want to participate. A comprehensive study of social enterprises in Manitoba, including BUILD, found that training programs break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and positively impact trainees, families, and communities.

For over 1000 people, BUILD has provided a path to economic participation. At BUILD, people find acceptance, acknowledgement of their life stories and the unique support that isn’t offered in conventional training programs. That might be as basic as nutrition, life coaching, parenting skills, connection to cultural practices and advocacy for help navigating systems. With these supports, learning becomes possible.

BUILD participants thrive with the opportunity to work with tools and work in teams with skilled mentors. Many have gone on to full-time work and/or further education in building trades. They become the skilled people we need in Manitoba, especially as we (hopefully, necessarily) invest in large and rapid social housing construction.

Creating worth for society in the forms of building renovations, energy efficiency and repairs and, most important, fostering a sense of individual self-worth and restoration of community is what BUILD offers.

As the most recent funding agreement with the Province approached its end, negotiations began for financing in the form of a Social Impact Bond (SIB). This is a form of private investment in a non-profit organization, brokered by a third party and backed by the government, that repays investors when the organization achieves agreed-upon results. SIBs are in their infancy in Manitoba, and the public-private model is not without controversy. However, this negotiation ended when BUILD was informed that its participants could not be involved in the justice system (i.e. If they had criminal records). Previously the province had funded BUILD through regular public funding; however, these funds have been cut. BUILD is forced to suspend the training component of its programming.

This is a penny-wise and pound-foolish decision by the Province of Manitoba. Research has shown that the cost-benefit ratio of comprehensive training programs like BUILD is $1.61 in benefits to every $1 in cost. Public funding to training programs like BUILD saves the public purse money by reducing recidivism and reliance on welfare and creating workers who can now pay taxes.  

This is not the time to be cutting support for this critical program. Around us, in Manitoba, we are seeing growing hardship and hopelessness. Government cannot wring its hands over increasing rates of substance abuse and incarceration, and people dying unsheltered, and at the same time turn its back to an existing program that has done much good in combatting these trends. BUILD needs more support, not cuts.

For example, in my home, we employed the social enterprise arm of BUILD to do insulation work for us. They did a fine job at a competitive rate. One of the team was a woman who came up through the training program. Through my work, I’ve met many dedicated individuals who work at BUILD and witnessed their commitment to the people they support and train. Best of all, I’ve been honoured to meet some of BUILD’s trainees and hear their stories. For those of us with privilege, it is humbling to hear how they have struggled to overcome adversity and make a better life for themselves and their families. They will not hesitate to give credit to their participation at BUILD.

This vital training program needs to continue and grow. It is truly an investment in our future.

Anne Lindsey is formerly the Executive Director of Manitoba Eco-Network and of Local Investment Toward Employment. She is a CCPA Manitoba Research Associate.