Project SEARCH is a one year course which helps students (18–24) with learning disabilities secure employment during their final year of education. Project SEARCH is a partnership between the host site, an education establishment and a job advisory agency. The students spend a year on site with an employer benefiting from a combination of on the job learning and classroom activities.
This provides transferrable employment skills, experience, knowledge and confidence to find paid employment at the end of the year. The Project SEARCH programme was developed in Cincinnati, USA. The partnership at the Trust was established as a pilot site in the UK with this model now being replicated throughout the Country. The partnership comprises of the RUH, the host site, providing placements, work place mentoring, HR support and Facilities, Fosse Way School, a specialist school for young people with learning disabilities, and Virgin Care.
Virgin Care provides job development and job coaching both during Project SEARCH and after graduation for those who secure employment whether within the RUH (24 individuals currently) or elsewhere after the programme ends. This approach provides students with a positive experience of the world of work and a valuable opportunity to secure employment.
Our vision is to help and support young people with a learning disability get onto the first rung of the employment ladder. The Project SEARCH Franchise, which we replicate, aims to achieve 60% paid employment of the students. We have achieved 62% to date. There is no financial gain for the Trust, however it has introduced our staff to new ways of working, helping understand the needs of this underrepresented group of the workforce.
We enable them to gain transferrable skills providing them with an equal footing with their peers when applying for paid employment. This reflects our shared values, Everyone Matters, Working Together and Making a Difference, and is demonstrated in the way we work with young people with a learning disability to provide equal access to employment opportunities.
Each young person has three work placements during a 12 month programme. During the placements we focus on the individual needs of each young person e.g. those requiring communication skills will be placed in a patient support assistant role, IT / computer skills gaps will be supported in an administrative role. Our goal is provide the individual with the best opportunity to gain employment by helping them develop employability skills.
The programme goals are to help young people with a learning difficulty develop the skills they need to gain employment. The target is to enable 60% of course students to gain employment of at least 16 hours per week. The team has a 62% success rate of students gaining employment, however the rate is nearer 100% when part time working of less than 16 hours per week is taken into account.
Many of the students are employed for fewer than 16 hours, this is a lifestyle choice based on their need to work flexibly to manage their health. Each year the programme sets a target to recruit between seven and nine young people. Since its inception in 2009 Project Search has enrolled 68 students (average 8 per year) with a completion rate of 90%.
Placements are developed working closely with department managers to identify areas suitable for the students’ needs and aspirations. This year fifteen departments hoped to place seven students; four have secured paid work and three are applying for vacancies at the RUH. The Partnership regularly reviews the programme and makes improvements as required, to enhance the experience and is individually tailored as necessary.
In the early days it was challenging to find suitable placements, but Project SEARCH students are now highly valued with demand for students outstripping supply from the course. Some practices have been adopted by all staff, streamlining procedures and training. Inspired by Project SEARCH’s success, similar initiatives have been set up with other partners:
Traineeships with Weston College – a bridging programmes to support young people to access apprenticeships and roles within the RUH. Support Routes to Employment (Sure) - a partnership between Bath College and Virgin Care for young people (18-25 years) aimed at young people with high functioning Autism who do not fit the criteria for Project SEARCH.
These students have often attended university, so are academically able, but a social communication disability prevents them from reaching the first rung of the employment ladder. The programme supports participants to develop employability skills mirroring the Project SEARCH approach but aimed at a different group of young people. A second Project SEARCH site was set up with Bath College, Bath City Council and Virgin Care based at the Guildhall in Bath. It recruits college leavers in early 20’s and was inspired by the successful implementation of Project SEARCH at the RUH.
The project consistently achieves its original remit to provide support to young people with learning disabilities so they can gain paid work. In addition, the project has meant that many of the young people have chosen to find work in the hospital rather than seek work in other sectors which was an unexpected benefit of our inclusive approach to recruitment.
This has benefited the RUH because some of the jobs which suit those with learning disabilities are hard to fill roles providing a solution for some of the RUH’s recruitment challenges. Young people with learning disabilities are vulnerable and therefore susceptible to abuse. Statistics indicate that this group is over represented in the prison service and criminal justice system. Project SEARCH enables this group to gain employment which increases their self-worth and provides a safe environment where their value is recognised.
The evidence indicates employment is the single most important activity which can prevent offending & reoffending. A further economic benefit is the parents of young people with learning disabilities are able to seek employment too. The Fosse Way School was rated outstanding in its most recent Ofsted inspection, Project SEARCH featured heavily in the inspection report.
Project SEARCH is an equal partnership between a host site, an education establishment and a job advisory agency. The RUH is the host site and provides a class room, HR support and access to internships for the students. The departments provide expert work based mentoring for the students. RUH colleagues liaise with the job coach and teacher to deliver specific student centred employability outcomes.
Virgin Care provide job coaches who visit students at least once per day and provide systematic coaching to support the development of work specific skills e.g. how to clean podiatry equipment. The job coach will learn the new task with the student and coach the student in how to complete the task in a systematic manner.
Fosse Way School is the education establishment and provides a teacher who visits the students and mentors at least once per week to support them to improve employability skills and maximise opportunities for future employment e.g. how to behave in a work environment . The teacher delivers the statutory academic curriculum which includes functional skills, English and Maths, PHSE, and employability.