THE Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust has teamed up with Petroc and Pluss to offer students with disabilities a unique work experience opportunity.
Project SEARCH is a one-year internship programme based at North Devon District Hospital which will give 18 to 24-year-old students with learning disabilities the chance to try a wide variety of job roles.
The scheme, which launches in September 2013, will increase employability while building confidence, developing life skills and encouraging independence.
It is also hoped the internships will lead to permanent employment for many of the students.
The programme builds on the huge success of the award-winning Project SEARCH at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, which has led to similar programmes being developed throughout the USA and in the UK.
The Trust, Petroc and Pluss will receive continued support and advice from the founding team to ensure the project is equally as successful here in North Devon.
County council funding has enabled the project to expand to North Devon.
A spokesperson said: “We are delighted to be a part of this project as it’s a fantastic opportunity to help young people with a learning disability access another pathway into work.”
Those who successfully secure a place on the programme can expect to be carrying out tasks such as surgical sterilisation, patient escorting and stocking of patient floors at the hospital, alongside a classroom-based education programme.
Project SEARCH in Cincinnati has developed innovative training aids and job adaptions for streamlining many of these positions and all students on the programme will be allocated an onsite learning support assistant and job coach.
“At Petroc we are committed to increasing the employability of all our supported learning students, preparing them for an independent and fulfilling future,” said Kevin Hazell, head of the school of health, fitness and supported learning at Petroc.
“The current statistics are shocking – 93% of adults with learning disabilities in North Devon are not in employment, yet the majority of those are both keen to and capable of entering the workplace.
“We strongly believe programmes like Project SEARCH can help make a significant difference to these figures.”
Darryn Allcorn, assistant director of workforce for the Trust, said: “As the largest employer in the area, we have embraced the opportunity to work with Petroc and Pluss in support of this project.
“The project aims to offer new opportunities and challenges to the successful applicants and the collaborative approach to learning and support in the workplace will reinforce our commitment to work-based learning and assist the individuals towards fulfilling careers and employment.”
Mark Hodges, Pluss manager of learning disability employment services, said: “It is great to see Project SEARCH preparing to be delivered in Devon after some years of planning and building on the success of the Project SEARCH sites in Plymouth, Torbay and elsewhere across Europe and the US.
“This partnership presents a great chance for local employers to recruit from this generally untapped pool of well-motivated jobseekers that can make such a positive contribution to diversity and make good business sense.”
Petroc students Jack Gratton and Jordan Davis, who are currently on an Open Doors course at the college, are both keen to apply for the internship.
“I’ve already done quite a lot of voluntary work, including some with Pluss, so I think I am well prepared for the work at the hospital,” said Jack.
“It would be great to think the internship could lead to paid employment in the future,” added Jordan.
Petroc is predicting the new internships will be popular, as it will be one of just 27 nationally.
Students applying will need to meet the specific criteria and for those not quite ready, the college also plans to run a one-year pre-Project SEARCH programme to prepare them for the internship.
To find out more about the project or to request an information pack, call Ellie Webb, administrator for the school of health, fitness and supported learning at Petroc, on 01271 338061 or visit www.petroc.ac.uk/projectsearch.