Understanding Employment Insurance (EI)

The Train for Trades program is tied in to eligibility for EI upon completion so a brief review is provided here.

Employment Insurance ‘regular benefits’ are intended to provide “temporary financial assistance to unemployed Canadians who have lost their job through no fault of their own, while they look for work or upgrade their skills”. Criteria for job losses can include “shortage of work, seasonal or mass lay-offs” (Government of Canada).

Calculating eligibility for EI is a fluid process because it is based on a number of variables including number of hours/weeks worked, pay rate, regional unemployment rate, EI history etc.

Service Canada says:

  • Benefits are calculated using your “best weeks” of gross earnings (see below) during the qualifying period.
  • The qualifying period can vary. The minimum is determined by regional unemployment and the maximum is the previous 52 weeks.
  • Once the best weeks divisor is determined your total earnings are divided to obtain an average.
  • Benefits are calculated at 55% of this amount up to a maximum amount of $524/week.

The process for calculating EI benefits went through a significant change in 2013 with the introduction of variable best weeks. Designed to make EI “more fair, flexible and responsive to regional economic conditions” your EI benefits will be calculated using your best weeks of earnings over the qualifying period (generally 52 weeks) rather than the average earnings. The number of weeks used ranges from 14-22 depending upon the rate of unemployment in your community (EI Economic Region). The areas with the lowest rates of unemployment will use the best 22 weeks while areas with the highest rates of unemployment will use the best 14 weeks). 

As of February 8th to March 14th 2015, the regional unemployment rate table stated that for the St. John’s Newfoundland EI Economic Region:

  • the unemployment rate was 5.5%
  • 700 insured hours are required to qualify for Regular Benefits (this translates to 17.5 weeks of work at 40 hours/week or 20 weeks at 35 hours/week)
  • The minimum number of weeks payable is 14 while the maximum is 36.
  • The benefit rate will be developed based on the best 22 weeks. 

Additional funds may be available for low-income households with children (determined by receipt of Canada Child Tax Benefit). If the net family income is less than $25,921/year, then the Family Supplement can increase the benefit rate up to 80% of average insurable earnings. 

Choices for Youth is a housing support agency for youth 16-29 in the St. John’s, NL metro area.  It was founded in 1990 in response to “an identified need among youth, the community, and government to have an empowerment-based program available to youth for whom ‘home’ was not an option". The need for the program arose from the closure of the Mount Cashel orphanage[2]. While that site had to be closed, the needs of the community did not disappear.

For the first ten years of the program, Choices operated as in-care model/group home style. In 2000/2001, legislation changed in Newfoundland, which affected the agency significantly. “All of a sudden, young people had a right to choose other things, other than what we were offering them. So the organization was faced with, I guess in hindsight, a bit of a blessing, a critical moment of either folding up shop, that we’ve done our bit, that we’re not relevant anymore or reinventing ourselves. We chose to do that by becoming an agency that works for more of an over-16 population, harm reduction, at-risk youth, homelessness. [It’s] more of an outreach model supporting young people out in the community,” Sheldon Pollett, Executive Director, Choices for Youth.

While the provision of supportive housing options remains a critical component of the work that Choices does, it also strives to give youth “access to a variety of services that promote healthy personal development, and a sense of belonging within an environment of respect, tolerance, peace, and equality” (Choices for Youth website).

[2] The Mount Cashel orphanage, a boys’ home run by the Christian Brothers of Ireland in Canada (a community of the Roman Catholic Church) was closed on June 1st 1990, following several complaints of physical and sexual abuse and numerous investigations. Following Confederation, the government placed Crown Wards (individuals in the case of the child welfare system) at Mount Cashel so not all residents were indeed orphans. The sexual abuse scandal – which affected more than 300 residents – is considered to be Canada’s largest and one of the largest in the world. (;


Choices for Youth’s website states: “Our organization is based on the philosophy that everyone has a right to:

  • Safe housing;
  • A standard of living that promotes physical, mental, emotional, psychological, and social development;
  • An environment of mutual accountability, responsibility, independence, equality, dignity, peace, and respect;
  • Protection from abuse;
  • Participation in any decision making that affects their lives.

The core values of Choices for Youth are:

  • Act with empathy and kindness.
  • Choose to see the potential.
  • Cultivate safe, inclusive spaces, and promote diversity.
  • Work hard, with boundless ambition and strategic excellence.
  • Inspire hope, and create opportunities that empower.

According to the Choices for Youth website: “Choices for Youth strives to be a model of diversity and inclusion, and our Board Members, staff, volunteers, and program participants reflect the many faces, cultures, identities, abilities, and walks of life that make up our province. We are a learning-centered organization that values the perspectives and contributions of all people, and strive to incorporate the needs and values of diverse communities into the design and implementation of inclusive programs. We respect, value, celebrate, and welcome racialized people, all sexual orientations, women and trans* people, Aboriginal and First People, people with disabilities, with mental illness, and those from all social strata”.

Choices for Youth began with a “simple, two-step process: help youth find housing, education, and employment, and then help them maintain it” (Choices for Youth website).

As they developed their knowledge and grew to understand more about the needs of youth, their outreach and harm reduction philosophy has led to a more complex programming model.

The Choices website states:

  • Step 1: Provide individuals with options to find housing, employment, training, and education.
  • Step 2: Provide intensive models of support on personal barriers to achieving the desired outcomes in Step 1.
  • Step 3: Increase youth engagement in individuals’ immediate and broader communities.
  • Step 4: Increase options and support for continued individual stability and independence. 

Now in operation for 25 years, Choices for Youth offers a number of core programs to meet the diverse needs of the youth of St. John’s.  Each program is designed to fit one or more core areas of focus: Crisis Response, Supportive Housing, Targeted Supports and/or Fostering Independence. Youth can be involved in multiple programs at the same time. Program participants may also receive individual services to meet their needs. There are approximately 80 staff in the organization and they serve the needs of about 1,000 youth per year.

The area(s) of focus for each program is listed below in the descriptions.

  • Shelter for Young MenCrisis Response/Supportive Housing - This nine-bed facility is an emergency shelter for homeless youth between the ages of 16 and 29 who identify as male. Youth can stay for up to a month. In 2013-2014, the shelter had 229 admissions and 259 turn-aways with no availability and a 95.7% occupancy rate. The average length of stay is 21 days, 80% of users have mental health and addictions issues and there is a 69% repeat user rate.
  • RallyHavenCrisis Response/Supportive Housing - This program provides 11 youth with long-term, supportive, communal living opportunities in four Newfoundland Labrador Housing Corporation houses in downtown St. John’s. Youth receive individualized and regular supports while in the program and there are follow-up activities after they exit. Since 2011, 41 youth have been supported. Of these, 14 (re)started an educational program, 16 found employment or began a pre-employment program and 15 maintained housing for a year+.
  • The LillySupportive Housing/Targeted Response - The first affordable housing facility for male and female youth experiencing homelessness in St. John’s, The Lilly opened in 2010. It houses 14 youth, ages 16-24, in 1- and 2-bedroom units and is staffed 24/7. It is modeled after Eva’s Phoenix in Toronto and the renovations were done by the youth in the Train for Trades program. Since 2010, 80 youth have resided at The Lilly, of which 80% availed of The Lilly as long-term housing and 95% were employed or enrolled in education/employment programs while living at The Lilly.

“The Lilly is transitional housing. There are two floors, there’s a kitchen to each floor and a living area to each floor, but everybody gets their own room and room key to get in to the rooms…It’s a really cool feeling that the guys from prior or the person prior built my living space.” — Matthew, age 21, Train for Trades Tier 1 participant and resident of The Lilly

The central hub of Choices for Youth is the Outreach and Youth Engagement Centre.

  • Outreach and Youth EngagementCrisis Response/Targeted Supports/Fostering Independence - This initiative serves as the gateway into Choices for Youth for most youth. It includes a drop-in at the Youth Services Centre, a meal program and the staff team provides programming to support the diverse needs of youth, including housing, employment, education, life skills, lifestyle choices and mental health and addictions supports. This acts as a central hub that enables Choices staff to connect youth to the programs that are right for them. In 2013-14, there were 20,948 requests for service, and they provided food or access to food over 8,000 times. There were 700 distinct individuals served and the forecast for 2014-2015 is 1,200.

There are three main programs within the Outreach and Youth Engagement program area:

  • Jumpstart – This 12-week pre-employment program operates three times per year and supports youth to learn basic employability skills, including property maintenance, home repairs, carpentry, gardening, cooking and food safety. Staff and two youth mentors, who are past participants of the program, support the youth. In 2013-14, 29 youth completed the program. 16 youth were connected to further education, 23 gained employment and 28 were assisted to find or maintain housing,
  • Momma Moments – This program supports young pregnant and parenting women to improve their healthy living skills and effectively care for their children. Groups run weekly in St. John’s and Conception Bay South. In 2013-14 the program served 39 young mothers and 52 children. 100% reported healthier eating habits, 15% secured safe and affordable housing and 88% received access to public health and counselling services. Building from this program, Choices is developing a Young Parents Supportive Housing and Resource Centre. This project will combine support services and housing for young, single-parent families, and is designed to help single parents improve their parenting success and keep their children in their care.
  • Youth in Transitions – This provincial pilot program is offered through the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services and in the metro area in partnership with Choices for Youth. It’s a life skills based program providing individualized support staff (from the Outreach and Youth Engagement Team) to help youth develop skills such as budgeting, meal planning, laundry and transportation. Since October 2013, 55 young people have taken part in the program. Of these, 27 have secured stable housing and 22 have completed and exited the program. 
  • Moving ForwardTargeted Supports - This project provides intensive support for youth aged 16-24 who struggle with complex mental health issues. In partnership with Eastern Health and Stella’s Circle, Moving Forward assists youth who exhibit high-risk behaviours through one-on-one and supportive groups. In 2013-14 there were 17 youth participants and 75% of participants found stable housing.
  • Train for TradesFostering Independence - This program forms the core of this toolkit and is discussed in more detail throughout. Essentially, the program provides employment and skills training in a supportive environment for at-risk youth while they learn construction skills and retrofit houses/facilities belonging to Newfoundland Labrador Housing Corporation, private citizens, or community partners. In 2013-14, the program enrolled 20 youth across three tiers. Eleven of the youth completed a GED and 70% of graduates are now employed or in post-secondary school.
  • Youth Leadership Council (YLC)Fostering Independence – When youth homelessness is not a part of our everyday lives, the gap between perception and reality of the issue can be enormous. The YLC helps close this gap, and connects funders, the community and other support systems to real information and lived experience. It is an intentional process of involving youth in the decision-making process and program design. Youth also deliver workshops on self-injury and hope to expand to other topics. In 2013-14, the Council grew from 4-12 members and it held 14 self-injury workshops.

In the delivery of all these programs and across all four areas of focus (Crisis Responses, Supportive Housing, Targeted Supports, Fostering Independence), Choices for Youth strives to empower at-risk youth by helping them secure stable housing, employment and education. These are held as the three Key Life Factors at Choices for Youth and are fundamental to helping at-risk youth transition into healthy adults. 

“I call it the raw material of an opportunity, because our real objective is training and employing at-risk youth to have every opportunity to live sustainable futures.”  — Sheldon Pollett, Executive Director, Choices for Youth

Train for Trades (T4T) was created in 2008 to provide employment for at-risk and homeless youth. It uses the expression “Real Pay, Real Work” to emphasize that while this is a support program it is also employment.

The program has three main categories of focus:

  • Training – designed to meet the needs of youth and industry, where youth receive the necessary safety knowledge and general construction training combined with energy efficiency retrofit training to prepare them for a career in the trades.
  • Employment – industry driven and meaningful, where youth are given the opportunity to gain valuable construction/energy efficiency retrofit experience, build on acquired knowledge and learn how to manage a job.
  • Support – Intensive Support Model (ISM) implemented to help youth navigate a personal plan for success and to attain the stability necessary to move forward in their lives.

The program targets many of the hardest-to-serve youth, including those without a high school education (or literacy issues), individuals with a history of addiction or mental health issues and youth who have been involved in the criminal justice system. 

Based on Eva’s Phoenix in Toronto, the program emerged during the renovation of the Lilly Building, a former warehouse space that was developed into a Transitional Housing program for youth. Participants in T4T were engaged in the process of renovating the building.  The success of the pilot proved that the program model was successful and that training/employment could help at-risk youth achieve positive changes in their lives.

 To help determine the next stage of the project, Choices for Youth  (CFY) looked to Winnipeg’s BUILD organization; specifically the Warm-Up Winnipeg program.

BUILD, an acronym for Building Urban Industries for Local Development, “is a social enterprise non-profit contractor and a training program for people who face barriers to employment. We retrofit homes with insulation and high-efficiency toilets as well as water-and-energy-saving devices (showerheads, CFLs etc.). Our work lowers utility bills, employs neighbourhood people, cuts crime, and decreases greenhouse gas emissions” (BUILD website).

BUILD’s program is six months in length and includes an 8-10 week in-class component that looks at both vocational training and life skills training. This is followed by a four month practicum where participants can get work experience in one of BUILD’s five social enterprise divisions: Insulation, Plumbing, Maintenance, Patch and Paint, Cabinet.

A shift was therefore made in the Train for Trades program to focus on green retrofitting – improving energy efficiency in low-income social housing. This allowed CFY to develop a program that was a crossover of three key social issues – youth homelessness, unemployment and energy conservation.  It also allowed the organization to address the skilled trades labour force shortage by improving basic skill levels and readying young people for further training or employment.

As the program evolved, new stages were added (the Tier system) and new kinds of work emerged, including Modernization and Improvement through Newfoundland Labrador Housing Corporation and private contracting. The program continues to evolve – particularly as it moves to become a self-sustaining social enterprise – and these changes will be discussed further in About The Work.

In order to qualify for the Train for Trades program youth must be between the ages of 18 and 25. They must not have received Employment Insurance (EI) in the past three years and must not currently be EI eligible.

Unlike many programs, T4T wants to ensure that it is giving opportunities to at-risk youth, including those with mental health and addictions issues, criminal records, no high school education etc. While these barriers are not a must, a youth who is functioning well with few barriers will probably not be admitted to the program.

“You can be overqualified, if you’re currently working, if you’ve got your high school. If things are going well for you there’s no need for you to be in this support program. Generally the people who join are people who don’t have their high school, who are looking to get their GED. There are people who have it and still join Train for Trades because it’s something they need in their life. A friend of mine actually, he tried to join and he had a child (which is why he wanted to join) but he had a full-time job already and he had his high school. I mean he had everything working out for him so he was overqualified.” — Matthew, age 21, Tier 1 participant

The following provides a snapshot of the backgrounds of youth participants in Train for Trades. 

Backgrounds of T4T Participants

67% Unstable housing in family origin
66%   Reliving this unstable housing situation
62%  Repeat shelter use
66% Dropped out of school
72% Unemployed
75%  Criminal justice system involvement
62%  Substance abuse issue

Homeless Hub Thoughts:

The chart demonstrates that the commitment Train for Trades has to working with at-risk youth is more than just on the surface. The youth that take part in the program bring significant challenges with them, which require ongoing support and intervention.

A program that is going to target and welcome youth from these backgrounds needs to ensure that it has the proper support in place in terms of staffing levels/skills, staff and youth training and safety. Programs also need to figure out what outcomes they want to achieve with youth from such diverse backgrounds and how they will go about achieving them.

Youth serving agencies in St. John’s and the surrounding area can refer youth to the program. In completing the referral form youth are asked to provide basic information and explain their personal/social barriers to employment. The referring agency is also able to explain why the individual would make a good candidate for Train for Trades. 

The Program Coordinator and the Youth Supports Coordinator complete an in-depth intake assessment, which is 12 pages in length. In addition to making sure that the youth meet the specified criteria, they also want to ensure that the youth is ready to make a change. Areas on the intake and assessment form include:

  • reasons why the youth wants to apply for Train for Trades
  • history with employment and employment training programs
  • strengths and challenges in an employment setting
  • conflict resolution
  • educational history
  • family and friends/support systems
  • health overview (physical and mental health, dental and eye care)
  • drug and alcohol history
  • criminal justice history
  • housing situation
  • transportation access
  • financial and identification status

Homeless Hub Thoughts:

The level of detail in the intake and assessment is critical to ensuring, not only that the youth is a good fit with the program, but also that the program can provide the necessary supports to the young person.

It is important that a full explanation is given as to the reasons these questions are being asked. Because T4T encourages and supports participation from youth with significant risk factors, youth need to be informed that their honesty is critical in answering these questions. Youth have probably previously needed to hide the extent of the challenges in their history and current situation. This is a rare opportunity for them to share the full range of issues in their lives with someone who is not going to judge them.

“Sometimes there’s some criminal activities and you know, the youth really respects that we don’t judge that part of them. That’s one thing I always hear: ‘you know what, the past was the past and now we’re gonna move forward’. So, for the most part they face a lot of issues but they’re resilient, they definitely fight through. There’s lots of empathy around what they went through.” — Corey Foley, Youth Supports Coordinator, Train for Trades 

The initial length of the Train for Trades program was 44 weeks. This was designed to ensure that youth had enough hours to qualify for Employment Insurance and for funding to return to school.

Now that the Tier system is implemented there is no time restriction to move through the program. Some youth have been supported to stay in the program while on the waiting list for school, which provides them with extra income and gives T4T a skilled youth to assist in mentoring the newer participants.

Homeless Hub Thoughts:

As discussed in the EI section, eligibility varies across the country, so program planners should learn about EI eligibility in their own community if enabling youth to qualify for it is an objective.

In most cases, the length of time a youth can stay is going to be dependent on the financial resources of the organization. A balance will have to be struck between the ideal length of time needed to get a youth back on their feet with the help of supports and training and the need to have as many people participate in the program as possible.

The goal of T4T is to prepare youth for future employment or to get them ready to enter a training program (post-secondary, apprenticeship etc.). The typical Train for Trades experience is 44 weeks, established, as discussed in Duration, to give youth enough hours to qualify for Employment Insurance (EI) and funding for school.

An awesome program. I’d describe it as giving you a second chance in making your life better. I had zero to none experience when I started, and before my time was up I had all the experience I would need to start off here and make it easier for me to really start college. They pretty much save you in the long run if you listen them, do as they want you to do to succeed. It’s a great life turner. It’s a life-changing opportunity.” — Samantha, age 22, past participant Train for Trades and Carpentry student at Carpenters Millwrights College

In Newfoundland, some students are able to access funding for post-secondary school through EI or through the provincial Department of Advanced Education & Skills (AES). 

AES offers Skills Development Training funds to individuals who qualify for EI.This funding can cover some or all of the costs associated with school for a period of up to three years including:

  • Tuition
  • Books
  • Mandatory Fees
  • Living Expenses
  • Dependent Care Expenses
  • Disability Needs
  • Transportation
  • Accommodation

Dylan, a Tier 3 participant, is on the waiting list for a heavy equipment operator course. He estimates that the funding he will receive because of his participation in T4T will save him $16,000 in course fees.

AES also offers wage subsidies to employers who hire skilled trades workers or apprentices. Additionally, AES can provide individuals receiving social assistance with income while they are registered in school.

A variety of federal income assistance programs are available for individuals interested in returning to school. Additionally, Service Canada offers Apprenticeship Grants during and upon completion of an apprenticeship to qualified individuals. It is important to ensure that Employment Skills Development Canada staff (or their designate) give you permission to attend school while on EI or your eligibility may be cancelled.

We are in the business of having our employees stolen. In fact, one of our young people recently took two weeks to tell us about an employment opportunity he had in the private sector, because he was so loyal and didn’t want to disappoint us. But once he finally broke the news and told us we were ecstatic for him. Why would we ever hold a young person back from the kind of opportunity that this is all designed around?” —Sheldon Pollett, Executive Director, Choices for Youth

Homeless Hub Thoughts:

The funding opportunities available in Newfoundland/Labrador are not necessarily the same in all other provinces/territories. There are limited resources available to support individuals to attend post-secondary school. What is available depends on the province/territory’s legislation and funding supports, the current economic climate, an individual’s status (i.e. special programs exist for women, people with disabilities, Aboriginal Peoples) and other factors.

Programs should not be designed with an expectation that all individuals will be able to attend post-secondary training, unless the funding options are continually and thoroughly investigated and regularly updated.

However, this is not to say that post-secondary education should not be a goal of such a program. Agencies may wish to pursue corporate sponsorship or other funding sources to be able to offer scholarships to individuals who wish to attend. Combined with EI (assuming the individual receives permission to attend school) and scholarships, there may be sufficient funding to support someone’s tuition and other costs.

Youth work Monday to Friday from 9am to 4pm. They have a 35-hour work week and one hour for lunch daily. Youth are required to show up on time and ready to work including having their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). They can be excused from work to attend specific appointments (as negotiated with staff) or to attend GED classes.

Train for Trades uses a three-tier model. This is a recent innovation and is part of the focus on making the switch from an employment support program to a social enterprise activity.

While not all youth are given the opportunity to move through the tiers, not doing so is not considered a failure. In some ways, the tiers create a graduated system in that youth who move up usually do so one tier at a time and show that they have developed necessary skills and require reduced support. However, it is possible to have successful outcomes in the program without ever leaving Tier 1. 

Since one of the goals for the program is enabling youth to accrue enough hours to qualify for Employment Insurance and support to access post-secondary school/training programs some youth will move on before advancing to Tier 2. 

Sheldon Pollett, Executive Director at Choices for Youth describes Tier 1 as “really energy retro-fit, it’s really good entry-level work, it’s skilled, there is a lot of training, but it’s very repetitive work. It gives us a chance to really work with young people so they really get the skills down pat.”

Tier 1 is the entry level into the program and generally lasts about 44 weeks.  There are 10 youth in Tier 1.

Tier 1 youth are paid $11/hour. They are given a high level of support – usually one Youth Support Worker to a team of four to six youth, plus access to the one of the Youth Supports Coordinators.

Tier 1 youth work doing basement renovations for Newfoundland Labrador Housing Association as part of the green retro-fits. The overall goal is to make the basements warmer for the winter so that the tenant could save on their heating bill.  

When a youth is interested in extending their stay with Train for Trades and they show a good grasp of construction fundamentals, they move into the Modernization & Improvement (M&I) program. This program is also an initiative of the Newfoundland Labrador Housing Corporation but involves a more detailed amount of work, including exterior and interior refurbishment of an entire house.

Tier 2 youth are paid $13/hour. They receive a reduced level of support from staff, but staff remain present when working and provide support as needed. There are 5 youth in Tier 2.

Youth who progress to Tier 3 become full-time employees of Choices for Youth with all the rights and benefits of any other employee, including sick days, vacation days and family leave. Their salary increases to $15/hr. There are 5 youth in Tier 3.

Tier 3 youth work independently with contracting supervision from the Site Manager. They function effectively as a construction company bidding on projects within community, government and private sectors.

Tier 3, our objective there is that becomes the point at which young people really can work independently. They’ve got the skills, they’ve got the drive, the motivation. We can—just like any contractor would—set them up with a set of tasks and a job to do and they can just go do it with minimal support.” —Sheldon Pollett, Executive Director, Choices for Youth

Homeless Hub Thoughts:

The Tier model is an excellent way for youth to develop their skills. It helps youth learn the basics before moving on to more challenging work. 

It may be helpful to have clearly delineated expectations to define what needs to be attained in order to progress through the tiers (see Steps to Progress at Covenant House Vancouver in the Transitional Housing toolkit for an example).

The Tier 1 salary is higher than the provincial minimum wage, which provides encouragement for youth to engage with the program. Given the $2 increase with each tier there is significant incentive to move up in the Tiers.

We’re given a lot of experience in a bunch of different fields, so when we go out in the work force, we’ve got a bunch of experience on our hands.” — Brad, age 22, Tier 2 participant, Train for Trades.

Retrofits make up the core program and provide work for the majority of the youth in T4T. Train for Trades has a contract with Newfoundland Labrador Housing Corporation (NLHC) to complete 60 retrofits annually. This work involves stripping basement walls, removing the framework and on exterior walls, reframing, filling cracks, installing insulation, vapour barrier, dry wall etc. Overall energy costs for the tenants decrease and the space becomes more useable.

A second, newer contract with NLHC is through its Modernization and Improvement (M&I) program, which works to upgrade the condition of social housing stock. This is full on restoration of the entire building envelope.

The M&I program includes replacing roofing, siding, doors and windows. The success of NLHC’s exterior renovation program has recently allowed them to move into interior renovations, including tearing out existing walls and reframing, insulating, installing and painting new walls. In addition, new flooring is put down in the units. T4T has been able to obtain contracts for both exterior and interior work.

T4T has an initial contract for 10 units of housing. To date, four have been completed and two are nearly completed.

This is a newer area of focus for T4T but is key to the sustainability of the program and, in many ways, takes it back to its roots when it renovated The Lilly building. Other projects have included building a garage and a barn, installing bathrooms for the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre etc.

If we can build things for ourselves, for our own young people, we can also build things for pretty much anyone in the community.” — Sheldon Pollett, Executive Director, Choices for Youth 

Choices for Youth is also a client of Train for Trades; in addition to The Lilly, T4T renovated the Duckworth site and has plans to build six units of affordable housing for the agency’s Rallyhaven support program shortly. 

Homeless Hub Thoughts:

Part of the goal in creating a sustainable social enterprise is ensuring that the program receives funding from various sources so that it is not dependent on one source of income. While two of the projects that support Train for Trades work come from the same source (Newfoundland Labrador Housing Corporation) they are actually funded from two different budget lines, so even if one is cancelled it is quite possible that the other will continue. T4T is increasingly bidding on and obtaining unique contracts that will help expand the scope of its work. 

In the construction industry there are many standards that need to be met. Train for Trades works hard to ensure that the work that is done by the youth is of high quality so that it can pass all of the city inspections. Just because the work is being carried out by youth does not mean that there is any leniency given when it comes to codes and inspections. The work must be the same quality as any mainstream construction company.

Train for Trades also wants repeat business, thus it must deliver a quality product for the various employers it works with. Construction companies thrive on repeat business and word of mouth referrals. Despite being a social enterprise, T4T wants to do quality work to meet the expectations of the people and organizations that contract it. 

T4T also continually meets the requirements for the Certificate of Recognition™, which is a provincial safety standard that allows it to bid on government contracts. This will be discussed in more detail in the Safety section.

Like any business, if we don’t do good quality work and we don’t do it on time, don’t do it on budget, don’t do it on code…Every single unit of energy retrofit that we do, there’s 60 of them annually - that’s sixty inspections and somewhere around maybe three or four inspections per retrofit. That’s a lot of inspections. [We] don’t get any special lenience from [the city inspectors] around the work because we’re a social enterprise, non-profit, working with at-risk young people. We have to meet every code that the city has around our work. That’s been the deliverable for us - doing good-quality work so that we actually are seen as, ‘Wow, these are people we want to hire because they do good work, and you know what, I can also feel good about it because they’re also training and employing young people.’” — Sheldon Pollett, Executive Director, Choices for Youth

Homeless Hub Thoughts:

Organizations need to ensure they are aware of all health and safety standards related to the appropriate industries and that they do quality work that meets or exceeds these standards. While with Train for Trades this involves construction standards, a cooking program might need to meet food handling requirements. Meeting Human Resource requirements, proper financial management and general employer-employee obligations are also important.

Standards can also be understood more broadly to refer to the need to meet consumer expectations. A social enterprise will not succeed if it creates a bad product or has lousy customer service. It must meet deadlines in order to please its customer base. While consumers might go to a social enterprise once just on the merits of being a social enterprise, they will not return if they are not getting value for their money. 

Table of Contents

The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness acknowledges with thanks the financial support of The Home Depot Canada Foundation. Thanks to the staff, partners and service users (past and present) of Choices for Youth and Train for Trades who assisted in the development of the toolkit by taking part in interviews, providing data and resources or reviewing information.

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