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Project SEARCH: Background


In Doncaster when supported internships and work experience was mentioned a number of arrangements were discussed. It was decided that we follow the Project SEARCH model which seemed to have a sharper and more focussed structure. Since September 2014 it has indeed been a superb, structured, supported model, ideal for our young people with severe learning disabilities.

The following is an extract taken from:'Supported internship trial for 16 to 24 year old learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities: An evaluation Research Report December 2013 Cooper Gibson Research Disability Rights Unit.'

One of the 2009 to 2011 'demonstration projects' was Project SEARCH (licensed by Project SEARCH US), a supported internship programme hosted by employers with a view to enabling interns to become ready for work and better placed to find appropriate employment on completion. The adopted model for Project SEARCH internships, based on the vision to 'facilitate successful transitions from education into paid work' applied approaches including vocational profiling, job matching and systematic instruction. Key findings from the project are listed below:

Key findings from Project SEARCH

Outcomes - At least 1 in 3 interns gained full-time or part-time employment on completion of the programme (reported to be higher than average at the time for people with moderate to severe learning difficulties)

  • soft outcomes reported by interns, families and project partners: improvements in self-confidence, motivation, decision-making, self-esteem and health
  • organisational benefits for employers and other project partners
  • improved efficiency and attitudes among the workforce

Successes - An effective and organised partnership between employer, education provider and supported employment provider is essential in terms of communications and sharing responsibilities; plus 'buy-in' at senior level across all partners is crucial

  • tutors trained in systematic instruction techniques (which can also be useful for employers and mentors/coaches)
  • close engagement with families, carers and other staff within the workplace assisted the programme's success
  • job search should be an early focus for interns and include external employer.

Challenges - Availability of funding: many sites had 'absorbed' costs or accessed additional funding streams - but this is not sustainable in the longer term, the aim to provide continuing support to those individuals who had completed the programme raised concerns, particularly from those also expecting to take on new interns the following year. Employers participating in the scheme will have limited opportunities in terms of the posts they could make available for more than one intern, so new employers would need to be continually engaged

(Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (2012), Project SEARCH Evaluation: Final Report Office for Disability Issues), p.11 74 Ibid. 144

 It was thought by partner organisations that supported internships through Project SEARCH were particularly beneficial because of the relatively substantial length of time spent by the individual within a 'real work' environment, gaining valuable experience and skills. It was recognised however that future programmes needed to enable a pragmatic approach to delivery, remaining flexible enough to take into account and cater for local circumstances. The evaluation report for Project SEARCH recommended that for the supported internship element of the Preparing for Adulthood pathfinder, core successes 'such as employer engagement and a partnership approach to Supported Internships' are adopted and maintained throughout the duration of the initiative. Other key considerations suggested for future implementation of supported internships were: 

  • maintaining close engagement of individuals and their families
  • job matching, vocational profiling and the use of systematic instruction techniques
  • encouraging an early focus on job searching, with the engagement of external employers


Future Plans

North Ridge is committed to the long term Project SEARCH model. There will always be the need to discuss how the school can ensure the long term viability of this commitment, but employability as an outcome is not a bargaining position for the school, it is a right for the young people. Support and continuing endorsement between Children's, Employers and Adult services will be needed to overcome issues regarding risk, benefits and confidence in families, school and employers.

Employment has never been seen or discussed as a realistic goal for our students. The occasional visit to school by the young adults to school creates a buzz amongst staff and pupils. Parent comments have been tremendous this is one example from Jordan's carers.

"Project Search has brought Jordan out of himself, he can now mix with strangers, have a laugh and a joke. He feels it is like a family. The care at Next is fantastic, it is not what we expected."

I am not at school, I'm a worker, Jordan is happier at work than at school." (Just to add he was very happy at school!)

Fred and Jean said that if this can help other students in the way that it has helped Jordan they are all for it and would do anything to help.

A North Ridge Case Study. December 2014 

  • Ashley Vickers
  • Jamie Blandford
  • Jordan Haddon


All three are now on Project SEARCH at Next Distribution Centre Armthorpe Doncaster. They are on a work placement and study programme of 30 hours a week at Next, one of the largest High Street and online retailer in the UK. They are valued members of the team, described as friendly, polite, punctual and reliable, and they, Next, their families and school are really proud of their achievements in supported internship. All have a severe learning disability.

Whilst at school, Ashley, Jamie, and Jordan had work experience placements in a variety of companies, usually small retail units supported by school staff. Ashley and Jordan also undertook and successfully completed the Duke of Edinburgh Bronze award at school which gave them additional skills and confidence. They had regular contact with the local authority advice team and undertook an interview process at Next as part of the selection process. At careers interviews, progression to work was not really an option and they all preferred the idea of 'doing something' rather than going to College. Ashley and Jamie had found timekeeping and attendance a problem.

With support from North Ridge School and Project SEARCH, all four started a year-long work placement internship at Next, where they have undertaken a range of warehousing activities including picking, hygiene, packaging and pallet work, for their large mail order business. They also had support from an employment mentor from Adult Social Care to help them prepare for paid employment. Initially their families were concerned by independent travel, bullying and disorientation in unfamiliar environments. Within three days all were getting buses and trains to work independently after always being bused by school. Next staff were looking out for them and have bought birthday presents and joined football teams with them, and they were all looking forward to working in a new area after the ten week rotation. Success!

The following are all taken directly from their  Next Feedback 18.11.14

Louise Moss Capacity / Stock File Support Team Manager Doncaster:

Ashley Vickers

When seeing Ashley on the shop floor & the interaction he has with all members of staff has provided him with confidence which grows each day. When working on the shop floor he gets straight on with the job in hand & works well to remove all empty pallets from the loading bays to support the loading teams throughout the late morning / early afternoon.

Jamie Blandford

Continues to work well & develop when working on the shop floor, has shown commitment to the project & wants to do well when working on any job task he is set. Is ready for the next rotation to start as wants to learn more of the jobs we currently do at the Doncaster 1 & 2 warehouses. Always says good morning & good afternoon to any one he meets throughout his working day, positive outlook shown at all times which supports his team.

Jordan Haddon

Continues to drive the 'Clean As You Go' policy throughout his working day within the Doncaster 1 warehouse, will not need to be asked as when working into his working area will check the house-keeping & get straight to putting it right removing all rubbish etc. from the floors & product. Positive feedback received from the Doncaster 1 team, will provide eye contact when talking to any members of staff within the warehouse. Does prefer to get straight to work when entering the warehouse but has & is able to work part of a team when required to do so.