Local authorities, NHS trusts, and businesses are part of programme that gets students with special educational needs into jobs

A successful transition-to-work programme for young people with special educational needs plans to double in size over the next three years, it was announced yesterday (21 Jun).

The programme, called Project SEARCH, originated in the United States and is now established in the UK through partnerships with local authorities, NHS trusts, and businesses including  GlaxoSmithKline and Marriott Hotels.

A new charity called DFN Project SEARCH is being established by businessman and philanthropist David Forbes-Nixon to facilitate the expansion of Project SEARCH in the UK and parts of Europe with the aim of increasing the number of students taking part from 500 to more than 1,000 by 2021.

Project SEARCH is open to final-year school students with special educational needs, who undertake a year-long immersive internship at a host business or organisation that operates over an academic year. All students receive advice and guidance from job coaches and tutors alongside workplace mentors who provide coaching and support as the interns learn new work skills. As well as gaining year-long ‘on the job’ experience, students also complete an employability skills curriculum that teaches practical skills and knowledge including CV writing and interview skills.

The immersive nature of Project SEARCH’s programme has been shown to deliver positive outcomes for participants. Last year, two-thirds of participants gained paid work following participation in the programme, compared with a national employment rate for young people with special educational needs of just six per cent.

Delegates from businesses, local authorities and the teaching profession gathered in London today for a conference to learn about the best practice being used to deliver the Project SEARCH programmes. The conference heard from Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who gave his backing to the expansion of DFN Project SEARCH and praised its programmes for making a positive difference to the employment prospects of young people with special educational needs.

Jeremy Hunt MP said: “DFN Project SEARCH has led the way on internships for young people with special educational needs and has developed a successful model over many years. I am delighted that the next phase in its development will see improved access to this scheme across the UK, new school based employability skills programmes and further improvements to training opportunities.”

David Forbes-Nixon, the founder and Chairman of the DFN Charitable Foundation and DFN Project SEARCH, the new charity that will oversee the expansion of the transition to work programme, said: “Gaining real employment can have a transformative and life-long impact for a young person with special educational needs. It builds confidence, social skills, emotional resilience and allows young people to lead full and increasingly independent lives.

“Project SEARCH’s unique and immersive model has a proven track record of helping young people with special educational needs to gain paid employment. We are excited about the prospect of giving more young people the opportunity to take part in DFN Project SEARCH and would urge businesses to consider getting behind the scheme, which not only makes a positive difference to young people but also helps provide a new talent pool of potential new employees who can play a role in sustaining and growing your business.”

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