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Strengthening community connection: Building Up

Based on successful non-profit social enterprise models across the country, Building Up was developed in Toronto to improve our city’s environmental efficiency, affordable housing stock, and most of all – to create a real pathway for individuals experiencing barriers to enter apprenticeships and careers in the trades. They break cycles of systemic inequity through their extensive network of wrap-around supports that prioritizes long term career impact and personal growth for their participants. Their model that supports the transition from trainee to tradesperson include; a paid in-class pre-apprenticeship training program, real life employment through our social enterprise and personalized career case management.

Can you share a bit about Building Up, its purpose and what it means to be a nonprofit social contractor? 

 

The root of Building Up is about connecting the work that most needs to get done with the people that most need the work. What we really do is operate a non-profit renovation business. Where most people will train and employ people to run their business we run our business to train and employ people. So we go into non-profit housing where there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to bring that housing up to a livable standard and then we actually do those renovations while extending the offer to the people living in those buildings to carry out the work and use that as a way to train them – with a view to get them long-term careers in construction.

Strengthening community connection: Building Up

You won in the Strengthening community connection category. Tell us more about the significance of community to Building Up and why it’s important to have access to this type of funding to achieve your goals? 

 

The whole point of this organization is to respond to the community. There’s this belief in Canada that the shortage of tradespeople exists because people aren’t interested in getting into the trades. But we had 1,800 people apply to a program last year. So it’s a misunderstanding that people don’t want to get into the trades. The reality is people don’t know how to start and they don’t have the skills or the network to do so. What we’re trying to do is just fill the gap and give those folks that are looking to get the skills, experience, confidence, and support that they need to get into the industry. In turn, also give the employers in the industry that are looking for access to the community where they otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach them.

The reality is though, we had 1,800 applications last year but only 100 spots available in the program. So that’s why funding like this is incredibly important – so we can pursue our aspiration to grow. There’s a lot involved too – there’s a financial cost beyond what we can make through being a non-profit business. When folks go through the program, they get access to financial coaching, one-on-one mentorship, driver’s license applications, to name a few things, so we’re really working with people that could need that kind of support and there’s a lot more of those folks out there. It costs money and we’re always in the process of ensuring we can offer full support for everyone that comes through Building Up.

What have been some of your proudest moments while running Building Up? 

 

Since starting Building Up in 2014, we have had 700 people go through the program. That’s 700 reasons to be proud. For me, the most powerful moments have been witnessing the journeys of these individuals. For example, connecting with someone who maybe lost their kids or was coming in and out of jail and didn’t really have any direction and were looking for an alternative and then they found Building Up and were suddenly getting secure housing or getting their Red Seal, which is their certification. And now, they completed their apprenticeship and they’ve been able to break the cycle. So, it’s just the individual journeys and seeing that what we’ve set up works and has a positive impact in the community.

Do you consider digital tools important when running a business and what’s been your approach for Building Up? 

 

Yes we do and there’s a few reasons why. Firstly, we manage such a high number of applications and we’re on the journey with so many people – we don’t just source jobs and disappear – we stick with them and make sure that they’re progressing. So, having the right systems in place to track every single person that engages with Building Up is really important. Think of this in the context of continuity, for example, the staff team grows or maybe someone leaves who was supporting a certain group of people. Ensuring that people’s progress is well documented and accessible and transparent is incredibly important.

Secondly, having the right tools in place also helps with things like reporting to funders. We need to be able to comment on demographic breakdown, progress and gaps we need to focus on filling.

Lastly, being able to tell the story from an accounting standpoint as we’re running a construction business  while also running this training program. We need to be able to figure out if we’re running our jobs profitably or if we’re losing a lot of money and be able to tag expenses to different divisions and jobs and have that reconcile with the bank immediately. All of these things are really important the same way they’re important for normal business even though money isn’t the main goal for us, it is one of the restraints that needs to be organized.

Specific tools we use – Procore for construction job management, Humanity for team scheduling, Xero as our accounting platform and Dext for receipt capture which has a direct integration with Xero.

 How do you raise awareness about the work you and the team do and what advice would you give people who want to get involved in their community but don’t know where to start? 

 

A lot of it’s been word of mouth and we do have social media but a significant number of those 1,800 annual applications come from friends and family of people that have done the program in the past or people in the community who are sharing updates and talking about the work we do. It’s the same with our customers and funders – It’s a lot of personal relationships and just being out there.

When I was getting Building Up going I was incredibly surprised and excited by how open-minded people were to helping out. It was incredibly affirming. It gave me the confidence to ask to meet and talk about what I was planning and people took the meetings. My word of advice would be to ask if people are excited to contribute, especially if it’s just a meeting and I would recommend for people to be a little bold about it. You don’t have to have everything figured out. You can just go out there and ask people for help and some will say no but most will say yes, and if you have a bunch of meetings, a few of them are going to be really helpful.

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