Winnipeg needs programs like BUILD


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Just before the holidays, BUILD, Inc. announced the closure of its training program upon the breakdown of funding negotiations with the provincial government.

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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 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 produced remarkable results in 16 years, with educational programs, on-the-job training in trades and wrap-around supports. BUILD also 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, child-welfare systems, gang involvement, systemic discrimination and more, in varying combinations.

Add in pandemic and inflation realities, which have amplified the struggles of disadvantaged folks, and 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 been written off by the rest of society. We see the consequences in heartbreaking headlines every day.

But there’s evidence these folks want to work and support their families. There have always been way more applicants to BUILD than available positions. 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 training programs break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and positively impact trainees, families and communities. For more than 1,000 people, BUILD has provided a path to economic participation.

At BUILD, people find acceptance, acknowledgement of their life stories and 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 in teams with skilled mentors. Many go 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 rapid social-housing construction. BUILD offers worth for society through building renovations, energy efficiency and repairs and, most importantly, a sense of individual self-worth and restoration of community.

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, 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 was abruptly ended by the province. Previous regular public provincial funding was cut. BUILD was 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 the cost/benefit ratio of comprehensive training programs such as BUILD is $1.61 in benefits to every $1 in cost. Public funding to training programs such as BUILD saves 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 on an existing program that has done much good in combating these trends.

BUILD’s vital training program needs to continue and grow. It needs more support, not cuts. It is truly an investment in our future.

Anne Lindsey is the former executive director of Manitoba Eco-Network and of Local Investment Toward Employment. She is a CCPA Manitoba research associate.

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