We are delighted to announce that our Project SEARCH site in Barnstaple has won an international award due to its outstanding job entry rates.
Project SEARCH – a partnership between the Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, Petroc and Pluss – is a one-year internship programme that gives 18 to 24-year-old students with learning disabilities the chance to try a wide variety of job roles in a hospital setting. The aim is to increase employability while building confidence, developing life skills and encouraging independence.
Project SEARCH was developed at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Centre in Ohio in 1996 and there are now almost 400 programmes across the USA, Canada, the UK, Ireland and Australia.
The Barnstaple scheme was selected for the international award at the Project SEARCH annual conference in Phoenix, Arizona, because 86% of the students on its 2014/15 course went on to secure employment.
Project SEARCH officials said the Barnstaple team was "really making a difference in the lives of your interns".
The team was presented with the award by Anne O’Bryan, Project SEARCH programme specialist in Europe. She said: "It is extremely well earned. Your Project SEARCH programme was the highest achieving English site for its 2014 graduates, with 86% job success.
"The partnership at Barnstaple has worked hard to align their individual policies and practices to achieve excellent results for their interns. I have high expectations for your programme to continue to deliver and improve the best practice possible in the UK today.
"In my opinion it is your success, along with the 18 other NHS Project SEARCH programmes, that has contributed to Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, pledging to open up job opportunities in the NHS for people with learning disabilities."
The Barnstaple scheme, one of 38 Project SEARCH programmes in total in the UK, was launched in September 2013 thanks to funding from Devon County Council.
Students complete three 10 to 12-week rotations in a variety of departments such as medical records, booked admissions, sterile services, finance, procurement and electro-biomedical engineering (EBME).
Placements are also available at Bideford Hospital and with Sodexo, which manages catering, cleaning and portering services for the Trust.
Supported by an instructor and a job coach, the students return to the on-site classroom at NDDH to assess their day and learn communication, problem solving and job skills while also following an accredited course.
Gail Richards, engaging the young workforce lead for the Trust, said: "It is fantastic news that our ongoing work to train and create opportunities for people with learning disabilities has been recognised on the international stage.
"One of the Trust’s five values is to respect diversity and this month we were very happy to become one of the first NHS organisations in the country to pledge our commitment with NHS England and NHS Employers to employ more people with learning disabilities."
Kevin Hazell, assistant principal for lifestyle, care and foundation learning at Petroc, said: "At Petroc, employability skills play a huge part in our curriculum and we support our young learners, wherever possible, through work experience, internships, traineeships and apprenticeships.
"Project SEARCH provides students with the opportunity to gain invaluable employability skills and we are delighted that so many have gone on to secure employment as a direct result of the programme.
"We very much look forward to working with our partners to further develop the programme in the future and offer many more supported learning students in Devon the chance to develop life skills and gain the confidence to successfully enter the world of work."
Marise Mackie, cluster manager in Devon and Cornwall for Pluss, said: "Internship programmes like Project SEARCH demonstrate the untapped talent pool that is available to all employers and promotes the benefit of employing a diverse customer base.
"The hospital is truly leading by example and will hopefully encourage other employers to examine who and how they recruit."