An aging workforce and fewer young Canadians seeking careers in the trades are among the obstacles forcing contractors to look further afield — even outside of Canada — to secure labour.
But in some regions an undeveloped source of workers might not be that far away.
"We have a large pool of untapped labour," says Molly McCracken, referring to unemployed indigenous people and newcomers in Winnipeg.
McCracken, director of the Manitoba office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, is one of the authors of Creating Pride through Decent Work: Social Enterprises in Manitoba. The study looked at the impact of six social enterprises on the lives of their workers.
"There are social and economic benefits that these (social) enterprises are bringing to society," McCracken says, noting that unemployment rate of indigenous people in Winnipeg is about three times the city's overall unemployment rate.
One social enterprise examined in the study is BUILD Inc. (Building Urban Industries for Local Development).
From its office in the Social Enterprise Centre, in an old brick warehouse in North Point Douglas, Winnipeg, BUILD offers a six-month employment training program in basic carpentry for people with barriers to employment.
The program, which receives funding from the provincial government, takes on 50 students annually.
Roughly 40 per cent of them land construction jobs — often on BUILD remodelling projects for government agencies such as Manitoba Housing. Another 20 per cent of graduates choose to further their education.
"We've been doing it for 10 years and it has been working really well," says Art Ladd, executive director, BUILD. He says many students come from poor neighborhoods and have little or no job experience.
They are often undereducated; some have criminal records. For some of them "the biggest learning curve is just showing up every day and being ready to learn."
BUILD takes that into account by focusing not only on hard skills (carpentry) but also on soft skills which can be anything from time/money management to eating healthy on a tight budget.
The company will even help students get their vehicle licences. After two months of in-class training, students are paid for four months on jobsites such as insulating buildings for Manitoba Hydro or interior renovations for Manitoba Housing.
BUILD employs Red Seal certified journeyman carpenters who work hand-in-hand with students on site.
Ladd says bridging the gap between employers and training organizations like BUILD is a win-win for both sides: more students land skills-based jobs and employers get qualified workers who want to continue to learn. "The real challenge is how to connect the two."
BUILD is allied with other companies housed at the Social Enterprise Centre, including Manitoba Green Retrofit (MGR) – which creates "meaningful construction-related jobs for people facing barriers to employment," says operations manager Sara Atnikov.
The six-year-old enterprise, which started with two employees and now has 30, is big in repairs and renovations. One of its clients is Manitoba Housing where work ranges from capital intensive projects (replacing walls, doors etc.) to make-ready projects which involve basic repairs such as broken doors and walls.
MGR subcontracts to private construction contractors and recently placed one of its female workers at PCL Construction building social housing units. It is a success story – "the kind of the thing we are really all about," says Atnikov. "We don't necessarily want people to stay here forever although for some people working here is as far as they want to go in their work (careers)."
Along with recruiting students from BUILD, MGR reaches out to a network of community groups for potential construction workers. "We also see people from the community who walk into our office looking for work."
MGR and its partners BUILD Inc. and Pollock's Hardware Co-op formed the Social Enterprise Centre in North Point Douglas — a poor neighbourhood in Winnipeg's north end.
The centre is comprised of a cluster of social enterprises that often work together to assist local residents. The benefit of like-minded enterprises is that each can use the others services to meet its objectives, says Atnikov.
For example, both BUILD and MGR work with Manitoba Housing so when MGR needs workers, they reach out to BUILD for recruits.
McCracken's report — Creating Pride through Decent Work — stated that Manitoba has the largest number of aboriginal children in poverty in Canada.
Poverty rates are more than 50 per cent in some neighbourhoods in Winnipeg.