The future looks bright for Project SEARCH graduates

Chief Executive, Mairead McAlinden, and Chairman Sir Richard Ibbotson with eight of the nine graduates

Published: 14 July 2015

Nine young people with learning disabilities now have better career prospects having just graduated from a ground-breaking internship scheme based at Torbay Hospital under the banner of Project SEARCH.

The project aims to remove the significant barriers faced by people with learning disabilities looking for employment and has had success all over the world. This is the third year it has been delivered in Torbay by South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, South Devon College and local social enterprise Pluss.

Nationally, only 6.7 per cent of people with learning disabilities are in any form of paid work, compared with 73 per cent of the wider population, and just 4.1 per cent in Torbay.* Project SEARCH students work towards a City and Guilds Diploma in Employability and Personal Development and are helped to find paid employment at the end of the academic year.

The nine students, aged between 18 and 24, have each worked in three placements over the academic year. As well as placements in Torbay Hospital, this year the students have also had placements with Brixham and Teignmouth Hospitals, South Devon College, Highwayman’s Haunt, Sainsbury’s, Grosvenor Hotel and Shared Lives respite providers.

The graduation ceremony was opened by the Chairman of South Devon Healthcare Trust, Sir Richard Ibbotson, and certificates were presented by the Chief Executive, Mairead McAlinden, who said: “It’s a real honour to be part of this wonderful scheme which focuses on ability, not disability. I know from feedback from managers within the hospital that the students are a real asset to the workforce; they are motivated, eager to learn and fun to be with.

“Alongside helping these young people kick start their careers, the unexpected benefit has been the effect the students have had on their mentors and how they’ve helped the mentors grow and develop themselves. Long may this great partnership with Pluss and South Devon College continue.”

One of the interns, Hannah Lucas, is now working as an apprentice receptionist at the Torbay Hospital Horizon Centre. Hannah said: “Project SEARCH has helped me in many different ways such as showing me how to do an application form. I didn’t need too much of their help because I am a very independent person, although if I need help with something I am quite happy to ask someone.

“I think the reason I was successful in getting the year’s apprenticeship was because I worked really hard with everything that they had given me and took on board everything that I learnt. I am now very happy working at the Horizon Centre and I am very grateful for everyone’s help in getting me this far.”

Stephen Criddle, Principal at South Devon College, added: “The College is delighted with the success of this very important programme, now in its third year of operation. We work strongly with excellent Torbay Hospital in a wide range of areas including higher education and a very strong and growing range of apprenticeships, and Project SEARCH is unique in its positive benefit for all who get involved with supporting the scheme. Led very strongly by Pluss and the super staff team, this is an initiative which I hope will go from strength to strength with even wider partnership in future.”

Tom Bromwich, Head of Operations, Employment Services, Pluss, said: “It has been fantastic to maintain our partnership with the hospital and South Devon College. It really is an excellent initiative that continues to provide employment opportunities to students whilst providing support throughout their internships. With continued support from Pluss we can help the transition from internship to paid employment – here at the hospital or within the wider working community. Going forward we are working towards another successful year for Project SEARCH, starting in September, and we’ve already recruited ten eager young students. In particular, Pluss is looking forward to a continued effective partnership with the hospital and the college.”