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Social enterprise teams up with Meridian to build jobs, homes

'There’s a whole pool of people who aren’t getting great access to the labour market,' says Community Builders founder Brandon Day, who aims to solve that

Ingrid Langford has traded her camera for a hammer, a saw and the many other tools used in skilled trades.

“I wanted to do meaningful work,” says the former photographer, explaining why she decided to change career paths. “I wanted to learn a skill I could do with my hands.”

Langford studied photography and came to Barrie to shoot homes for a real estate company. But she ultimately decided she wanted something else and came across the Community Builders program, a Barrie not-for-profit, construction-based enterprise.

Community Builders combines training, employment and a focus on creating housing in its entrepreneurial approach to dealing with current issues. It aims to offset the trades labour shortage through paid construction training for people with barriers to employment.

Since its start seven years ago, the social enterprise has been involved in renovating community housing units, building affordable housing and adding to the rental supply through innovative projects.

The organization has teamed up with Meridian’s Social Impact Team as part of the Meridian for Good initiative in the Reframe community partnership.

The credit union’s $250,000 investment recognizes the critical role of skilled trades in Ontario’s cities and towns, as well as its commitment to providing education, hands-on skills and rewarding careers for underemployed individuals. Meridian is also providing financial confidence coaches to the trainees.

In addition, HGTV’s Sebastian Clovis is serving as construction coach. Taking a page from his former career as a professional football player, the renovator and host of Tackle My Reno and Save My Reno encouraged trainees to take the team approach to the job during a launch event on Monday.

Meridian’s Matthew Seagrim pointed out that the current shortage of skilled trades workers is expected to be exacerbated with the retirement of 700,000 skilled tradespeople by 2028, adding that the creation  of housing is a driver for what they do.

“Wherever we could put our stamp on affordable housing is what we want to do,” added Community Builders chief executive officer Brandon Day.

“It’s very unique and will have meaningful, long-term impacts," added Barrie Mayor Alex Nuttall at Monday’s event.

Community Builders executive director Carly Gasparini said since Community Builders start in 2016, 170 people have undergone training. With 14 people participating in the program in Barrie every three months, and another eight in Sudbury, there are 88 participants in a year, 80 per cent of whom graduate.

“There was quite a process to get into the training program,” said Langford. “They look for people who are wanting to learn, hungry to help out in the community, get into the trades, having a good work ethic.”

Her goal is to become red seal-certified in a particular trade. But she’s only halfway through the initial three-month program and hasn’t yet decided what that trade will be.

But she does know her long-term goals are to be active in the community and eventually build her own house. The program has helped her visualize her goals and has provided her with the tools to bring it all to fruition, she added.

Washington Chihwai, meanwhile, also decided to use the program to change careers after having studied architecture technology.

“It really wasn’t my thing,” he said. “I feel like I’m better outside than in an office.”

The idea of being in construction and creating tangible buildings appealed to him.

But he hasn’t eliminated the possibility of going into architecture. Learning and working in the trades will give him hands-on experience that could inform his work if he later decides to transition back.

After the initial training period, the participants are supported as they launch their careers in the trades.

Day, who is also the organization’s founder, said its goal is to turn problems into opportunities and come up with solutions.

“There’s a whole pool of people who aren’t getting great access to the labour market,” he said. “We’ve basically created a safe space where people can come and we give them the tools to make them successful.”

Day added that Community Builders, which uses the tagline Building with Purpose, provides building services that works with other organizations in the community and gives back to the community in many ways.

“When you hire a social enterprise, you’re getting the best value,” he says.