An innovative project in North Devon that is helping young people with learning disabilities or autism get into work has been highly commended at the national ERSA Employability Awards.
Project SEARCH, a joint programme between Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust (NDHT), Petroc, Pluss and Sodexo, was highly commended in the Disability and Health Employment category. The category recognises employers that help jobseekers with disabilities and health conditions achieve sustained employment. The project team was also shortlisted for Large Employer of the Year.
Project SEARCH sees students aged 18-24 undertake three 10-week placements at North Devon District Hospital (NDDH), with additional support provided by an experienced mentor. They also receive employability training.
Since the project started five years ago, 40 students (84%) have moved directly on to either paid employment of 16 hours per week or more or into a traineeship, working towards employment.
Gail Richards, training manager and apprentice lead at NDHT, said: “It was amazing to be shortlisted for two awards, and I was blown away to be highly commended for our work helping young people with learning disabilities start their careers in the NHS.
“I would like to recognise the significant efforts of the Project SEARCH instructors Dave Bridges and Eileen Higgins, and the managers and mentors at NDHT who have supported the students during their studies. Their dedication, passion and belief in our students make this the award-winning programme that it is.”
The latest cohort of Project SEARCH students recently graduated in a ceremony at The Cedars Inn. The students, their mentors and representatives from NDHT, Petroc and Pluss came together to celebrate the achievements of all the students, with many of them moving on to paid employment with NDHT.
The students undertook a wide variety of placements this year, including in optometry, research and development, medical records, IT and on inpatient wards.
Corey Hallett is one of the students who has graduated and is now employed by the Trust. He is working as a ward support worker across Staples Ward (Stroke Unit) and Glossop Ward.
Corey said: “During the first couple of weeks of my first placement I felt nervous, but after a while my confidence built up. The Project SEARCH team and the ward staff have been really good.
“Now that I’m employed by the Trust it feels really ‘real’ – I’m enjoying my work and it’s great to have a job.”
Darryn Allcorn, director of nursing, quality and workforce at NDHT, said: “It was a privilege to see our fifth cohort of students graduate and celebrate this with their mentors, family and friends. Each and every one of them has come a long way, and there are positive things on the horizon for all of them.
“Our interns are a much-valued part of our workforce – I am really proud of what they have achieved over the past year and I know everyone at NDHT is honoured to be a part of this project.”