The achievements of young people with learning disabilities or autism who have completed an international on-the-job training scheme at North Devon District Hospital (NDDH) were celebrated at an awards ceremony last Thursday (4 July).
Project SEARCH is an innovative one-year internship programme which is helping 18 to 24-year-old students with a learning disability or autism into employment.
The students complete three 10-week placements at NDDH and receive employability training. This gives them work experience, encourages independence and helps them to build confidence and develop life skills.
The scheme was launched by Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust (NDHT), Sodexo, Petroc and Pluss in September 2013. Over the past six years 50 interns have completed the programme and 78% have since gained employment. 100% of last year’s graduates got a job after completing Project SEARCH, most of them at NDDH.
This year, 10 students completed the programme. Jane Hanson, vice principal of Petroc, and Marise Mackie, head of employment for Devon and Cornwall at Pluss, presented the graduates with their certificates at the awards ceremony, which was attended by the students’ friends and families, past graduates and staff from NDHT, Petroc and Pluss.
The ceremony included a speech from a parent whose daughter graduated in 2017 and got a job in the radiology department. She spoke emotively about the amazing life-changing effect Project SEARCH has had on her daughter and herself. She said that it gave her daughter “self-worth” and was perhaps the first positive educational experience of her whole life.
Andrea Bell, deputy chief nurse at NDHT, spoke about how the interns are making a real difference to patients and described them all as “superheroes”. She thanked Adam Bear, who undertook placements in her department, and praised the excellent admin support he gave to a wide variety of teams at the hospital.
This year’s graduates spoke about their experiences. Tommy Robertson, who is now working for Sodexo, described it as his “most exciting journey”. Alex Moore, who has joined the Trust’s bank and is picking up flexible shifts in pharmacy, said: “Whatever the future holds, I’ll be ready to face it. Project SEARCH has helped me achieve my dream.”
Mathew Ettery, who graduated from Project SEARCH two years ago, has been employed with Sodexo ever since and took to the stage for a question and answer session on his experiences.
Dave Bridges, Project SEARCH instructor for Petroc, said: “This is such an amazing project, which gives young people with a learning disability or autism excellent, supported workplace placements within a busy hospital setting.
“The NHS and Sodexo teams that have provided placements have all been fantastic and have all shared in the positive experience of Project SEARCH, with many saying how they would like to keep on the interns.
“The feedback from interns, parents, staff and patients has been overwhelmingly positive and, combined with the fantastic achievements so far, prove what a fantastic opportunity Project SEARCH is for all involved.”