WISE Project for Training At-Risk Youth

With the growing interest in market-based solutions to social problems, work integration social enterprises (WISEs) have emerged across Canada and internationally that are designed to integrate into the workforce members of marginalized social groups (e.g., people with serious disabilities, youth with limited schooling and job training, ex-offenders, and people marginalized because of race or recent immigration). Some WISEs employ people on disability pensions, often allowing them to supplement their income and experience social benefits; others are training organizations, primarily for at-risk youth or recent immigrants, as they struggle for workforce integration. WISEs often are initiated by a parent non-profit that supports them in various ways such as providing space, administration, and management (Chan, Ryan & Quarter, 2016). They also may be assisted by social procurement arrangements with government agencies and business corporations, meaning that their services are purchased not simply for economic reasons such as price and quality but also for social reasons such as a commitment to the social goals of the organization (Barraket & Weissman, 2009; LePage, 2014; Quarter, Mook, & Armstrong, in press). A large investment is being made in WISEs by governments across Canada and by parent non-profits, but research has not clearly demonstrated whether this investment is paying off over time or among certain participant groups. The research project will address these gaps among WISEs that train at-risk youth (ages 17 to 35) for workforce integration.
Cross-sectional research has shown that WISEs can have a positive effect with respect to building human capital (work skills) and social capital, but less so for their economic impact. Put differently, the participants in these enterprises develop in many ways, but their economic gains (income, jobs) appear to be modest (Mook, Maiorano, Ryan, Armstrong, & Quarter, 2015; Quarter, Ryan, & Chan, 2015). However, none of this research has examined outcomes over time. For WISEs that are designed to train at-risk youth for the workforce, we need to track progress longitudinally to see whether the participants obtain and maintain jobs and an increased income, something that sponsoring non-profit organizations are unable to do comprehensively due to limited resources. Although these program outcomes may not be reached immediately, over time they should be if the program is achieving its objectives. The measures of value are not, however, limited to these economic benefits. Participants’ perceptions of their well-being and their socio-cultural learning, that is, what they have learned from their experiences in the training program and in subsequent workforce integration are also important measures of program success over time. Thus, the WISE Longitudinal Evaluation Project aims to assess whether WISEs that train at-risk youth are achieving their goals. We will address this aim through the following research objectives, one of which focuses on the individual trainees of WISEs and the other on the organizational level:

  1. Clarify, through longitudinal tracking, the extent to which WISEs training at-risk youth for workforce integration are achieving this goal, considering both economic and social outcomes. In fulfilling this objective, the study will fill a major gap in the existing research and create a data base, not identifying either individuals or organizations, which could be extended beyond the current 5-year study.
  2. Assess whether the return (economic and social) is commensurate with the investment, using social accounting.

This highly original research will provide evidence that bears directly on government policy: It is important to determine whether WISEs that train at-risk youth are achieving their goals, given the policy and programming investments by governments and non-profits. By clarifying if the short-term social and learning gains identified in prior research are sustained, or if economic and social benefits increase over time, we can determine if improvements need to be made to best support at-risk youth.

Reports & Presentations

The first report presents the highlights from the data collected in the baseline survey completed up to the end of March 2018 (end of Year 1).  In total, 339 participants took part in the baseline survey.  The data reported is descriptive statistics from the baseline survey. 

The Year 2 report presents the first look at the baseline survey data (collected up to December 2018 with 619 participants). The Year 2 report includes descriptive statistics from the baseline data. It compares participants who had attended training programs at social enterprises versus those who had attended training programs at non-social enterprises.

At the annual conference for the Association of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research (ANSER), our team presented the interim findings from Ontario.

The Year 3 report presents baseline data and preliminary analysis of the follow-up data from the 6-month and the 1-year intervals. The Year 3 report includes descriptive statistics from the baseline data and compares participants who had attended training programs at social enterprises versus those who had attended training programs at non-social enterprises.

At the annual conference for the Association of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research (ANSER) in June 2020, our team presented the mid-term findings from Ontario.

Contact Us

To learn more about the WISE Project for Training At-Risk Youth, please email Marcelo Vieta at marcelo.vieta@utoronto.ca.


The Ontario portion of this project is funded by the Government of Canada's Work Integration Social Enterprises Program. The opinions and interpretations of this project’s publications are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.

The national scope of this project is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.