CREATING OPPORTUNITIES FOR AT-RISK YOUTH

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A crucial phase in our employment programming is an individual’s transition from dependency on income, and other support systems, to long-term sustainable and viable employment. Employment and training are essential in breaking the cycle of poverty, but barriers can make stable and long-term employment nearly impossible for many of our program participants. In particular, barriers such as low education levels, mental health and addictions issues, and criminal justice involvement are common in the lives the youth we employ.

In 2008, Choices for Youth created the Train for Trades Program. We partnered with the Carpenters Millwrights College to provide basic safety and construction training to a group of ten at-risk youth who went on to help us renovate the Lilly Building, a supportive and transition housing complex. The success of the program was undeniable: three of the youth were then accepted into post-secondary studies, and two were offered employment.

The Train for Trades model has since evolved. Today it is a successful social enterprise known as Impact Construction and supports at-risk youth and Choices for Youth in general. 

Impact Construction offers high quality and on-time construction services while empowering at-risk youth with the intensive supports, education, and training needed to transition to independent and sustainable full-time employment. As the enterprise grows, it only holds more potential to build a skilled workforce of youth who can be of service to the broader community.

SHARING BEST PRACTICES & LEADING BY EXAMPLE

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During the Spring of 2015, the Train for Trades Program (now Impact Construction) was showcased in a national learning toolkit, produced by the Homeless Hub, as a model for effective employment for at-risk youth. The development of the toolkit required heavy consultation with Train for Trades staff and participants, as well as involvement of CFY Executive Director, community partners from the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation, the Carpenters Millwright College, and the Homeless Hub.

The toolkit serves as a guide to allow service providers, employers, and support workers across the country to apply a base model to create and effectively operate a youth employment program for at-risk youth. Train for Trades is offered as a case study, with an in-depth analysis of structure, financials, outcomes and strategy. It demonstrates clearly that at-risk youth can obtain, maintain and thrive if given employment opportunities, while simultaneously being offered individualized supports.

As youth homelessness is different from adult homelessness, so is youth and adult unemployment. Youth face higher rates of unemployment, tend to experience more frequent periods of unemployment, and face barriers linked to education levels. Paired with the complex factors associated with youth homelessness – the possibility of trauma, family breakdown, mental health challenges, addictions, and involvement with the justice system – these employment challenges present numerous problems for youth in our province.

Impact Construction's hiring model differs from traditional employment programs in that it responds to the needs of at-risk youth. To break it down: a young person will find it difficult to show up to work on Monday morning if they are focused on where they will sleep on Sunday night. Train for Trades does not just provide employment – it also provides support. This may involve housing support, educational or legal intervention, connections to mental health and addictions resources – whatever a youth needs to help them come to work. The result is that the longer the young person is employed, the more motivation they have to stay employed and reap the benefits of stable employment along with a more stable lifestyle. We accomplishes this by providing employment, training, and support under the umbrella a social enterprise.