Building Up: Toronto’s social contractor is making training work

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By Robin MacLennan

Ontario Construction Report editor

It has been eight years since Marc Soberano launched Building Up, a social enterprise that provides trades training and work for folks facing employment barriers.

Since that time, dozens of trainees have successfully completed the program and many employees have landed full-time positions as drywallers and apprentice carpenters.

“Our work is a part of a broader system in the apprenticeship pathway and would be far less impactful without the support of our local unions,” he said.

“The primary goal of Building Up is to prepare people with employment barriers for the apprenticeship opportunities that groups like Local 27 have created and protected.”

Pamela entered the program after being incarcerated and completed the program in June 2020. She recently entered the Toronto Carpenters Union Local 27 and is excited to begin working.

“There aren’t a lot of places where you have the opportunity to make a career or make something of yourself – they’re not going to think, “OK, well, let’s go to a jail and scout for trainees.” The fact that they even took the initiative to come, and had this great presentation called the reintegration fair, stood out to me,” she remembered.

With hard work and support, she reached her top goal of joining the carpenters’ union.

Building Up was developed in Toronto to improve environmental efficiency, affordable housing stock, and to create a pathway for individuals experiencing barriers to employment to enter apprenticeships and build careers in the trades.

Participants spend 16 weeks in a paid apprenticeship program with classroom and fieldwork. Soberano says the program “connects the dots” for trainees, employers and the community.

They complete bathroom and kitchen renovations, painting, flooring, roofing, window replacements, landscaping, decks — you name it, we Building Up does it!

“We give housing providers an opportunity to connect work that needs to get done in their buildings with the people in their buildings that need the work. We help construction unions meet their need for skilled labour by supplying them with individuals from the community that are looking for sustainable careers,” he said.

Experienced tradespeople collaborate with trainees previously facing barriers to employment to provide Toronto with a range of high quality construction services. We provide an opportunity for customers to improve the livability of their spaces while propelling the careers of community members.

Each project pairs experienced tradespeople with pre-apprentices, providing learning opportunities while offering customers a beautiful end product.

It’s a true win-win linking business needs to community needs. The profits generated by our work fund this social cause. 90% of Building Up graduates have moved into apprenticeships and/or full-time employment.

Building Up received $100,000 from the Genesis Generation Challenge – one of 10 winners from around the world developing business solutions that create social impact. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $1 million to the Genesis Prize Foundation.

“We put in an application and it happened,” Soberano said.

He talks about his motivation coming from his life with “quite a lot of privilege” and wanting to help people living with different circumstances.

A big part of success for trainees is self confidence, and Building UP helps.

“They think they can’t do it and they can … if they are given the right tools, support, networks and training,” Soberano explained.

The program provides the real-life experience of working on a team to accomplish a project . . . and to come out of the situation they are in with a real career to support themselves and their family.

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A large portion of Building Up’s work generates a significant reduction in overconsumption. Building Up has completed more than 5,000 water efficient retrofits, which have generated over 4.5 billion litres in water savings.

This is how Soberano describes his business:

“We are a non-profit contractor that sees business opportunities as pathways to change our participants’ lives. We show up when we say we will and do not hide extra charges. We view the contractor customer relationship as a partnership that is more valuable than a single job.

With hundreds of people coming through the doors every year, Building Up has a pool of trained labour to support labour needs.

“If you need help with anything, give us a call.”

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