Project SEARCH is an initiative to prepare and guide young people with learning disabilities, autism and/or sensory impairment into paid employment.
The programme has seen huge success across Whipps Cross, Royal London and Newham with supportive managers adapting their working practices and attitudes being changed.
Of the graduating interns in the last six years, approximately 75 per cent of them are now in full-time paid employment, working for Barts Health NHS Trust and external companies!
Project SEARCH is in its sixth year at Whipps Cross. We met Project SEARCH site lead, Janet Wingate-Whyte and job coach, Fred Inglis, who introduced us to some of our interns.
Fred says: “The important thing about Project SEARCH is the emphasis on what the young person can achieve and not what they can’t. We support the young people to discover their strengths and experience different jobs around the Trust.
“When they are looking to gain paid employment after their placement, they have to get the job off merit and go through the interview process like anyone else, and we support them with that.
“There are so many different jobs around the Trust, it’s very much a bespoke journey depending on their abilities.”
Janet says: “We help our interns build confidence and workplace skills they didn’t know they had. For instance, one of our graduates Dylan has great customer service skills and absolutely loved the X-Ray department, so he got a job as an X-Ray imaging assistant.
“All of our interns work extremely hard, they live locally and integrate well into the workforce.
“At the end of the placements, they are very motivated to stay here for a paid job or seek employment elsewhere.”
Sydney, 19, is currently on his third rotation as an office junior in the management offices at Whipps Cross.
He is visually impaired, and has been on three placements around the hospital – as a patient ambassador for Serco, in the maintenance and medical engineering team and now in Trust offices.
He said: “I find the hospital a very welcoming place to work and there’s no one I don’t enjoy working with.
“I found out about the scheme through school.
“It’s been so interesting to see all different aspects of hospitals and seeing some parts of the hospital you wouldn’t even know exist.
“I’ve been involved with varied projects – from the Star of the Month, to a big project to reduce food wastage to the NHS mail transition – I’ve got a lot from each one and have learnt so many new skills.
“I’m now hoping I’ve made enough of an impression to secure statements from each of my managers for when I begin my job search.”
Syd has increased in confidence hugely since the beginning of his Project SEARCH journey – he navigates round the hospital with ease, and uses public transport to get to work.
Ben has been working in the catering team at Whipps for five years now, he graduated four years ago and has just got his own place and got engaged.
He said: “I’m really excited for the future!”
Osama, 20, works on Poplar Ward. He helps to take food orders, serve meals, helps with housekeeping and helps to coordinate the feedback of the Friends and Family Test.
With his hard work, the feedback rate went up to 50% on the ward. He even won an award for his efforts. He said: “Everyone is really friendly and I would recommend the placement to other people.”
He is now looking for a paid job on a ward.
Fred said: “Not all interns go on to work on the ward. They need the right demeanour and Osama is perfect for it, he is always very respectful and professional. He’s a very hard worker.”
Osama even won an award from the surgical team for his efforts.
He said: “I felt wonderful to win the award. Project SEARCH has given me a future.”
Fred said: “When Osama joined Project SEARCH he thought his skills were limited to cleaning. He has proven his ability to be a ward support, improving his interpersonal skills and growing in confidence. He has achieved so much!”
Elaine Russo, senior sister on Poplar Ward added:
“When Osama first came to us he was quite shy and reserved, however he soon began to find his feet and gain confidence. Much of this was thanks to our Housekeeper Rabi who has become Osama’s mentor and has supported him during his time with us.
“Osama is now a confident and valued member of our team. He always has a smile and cheeky word to say to everyone when he arrives in the morning, that is like a breath of fresh air.
“Osama now carries out a number of invaluable tasks on Poplar which really supports the ward and the Trusts objectives for better patient care.”
Alex works on Acacia Ward, and was the first Project SEARCH intern to become a Healthcare Assistant.
She works flexibly nights and days and said the work is hard but she enjoys it.
Janet says: “We look for quality sustainable jobs and help our graduates go on to meaningful career paths both around the hospital and beyond.
“Project SEARCH is all about investment into our young people and changing attitudes.”
Project SEARCH at The Royal London
At The Royal London Hospital 90% of Project SEARCH graduates are still working at the hospital.
The Microbiology and Virology team shared how the programme has helped their service:
“We have taken on two exceptional people who are incredibly productive workers and whose work output is of a very high quantity and quality. We would go as far as to say they are among our top performers.
“It has been an amazing experience for many of our staff who have enjoyed meeting these people and have learnt a lot from them. They have taught us a lot about ourselves. Project SEARCH has changed and challenged the perceptions I and other colleagues had about autism.
“We have found their enthusiasm and optimism infectious and it helps lift the whole department.
“We continue to work with Project SEARCH whenever suitable vacancies arise in our department and we do our best to spread the word to the rest of Pathology and other departments we have contact with.”