Just 6.7% of people with learning disabilities are in employment. But a major international scheme that Cardiff and Vale College and Cardiff University have joined is making a difference - more than 60% of students who participate find jobs after graduating from the scheme.

Last week a further 11 Cardiff and Vale College students have graduated from internships at Cardiff University, with at least ten of them due to find full employment as a result.

The celebration marks the second year of Wales’ first Project SEARCH – a major international initiative which provides employment and learning opportunities for young people with additional learning needs. Project SEARCH in Cardiff is delivered through funding from the Engage to Change project, which is supporting young people with learning disabilities and autism into employment across Wales. Engage to Change is funded by the Big Lottery Fund in partnership with Welsh Government.

The scheme has proven to be a major success. Of last year’s cohort, seven have been employed after graduating in a range of roles, while two decided to return to education on subject-specific courses with the remainder still job searching.

One graduate who has found employment following her Project SEARCH internships last year is Grace Smith. Following her final internship in at Cardiff University’s Centre for Medical Education at the University hospital of Wales, Heath Park, a position as a technical assistant became available and Grace successfully applied for it.

“I learnt new skills like making new friends, communication, making eye contact and I learned how to work on my own,” Grace said.

“I was on Project SEARCH last year and it helped me to get this job. If I wasn’t on Project SEARCH I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

The students complete three ten-week internships across Cardiff University and at CAVC with support from the College and ELITE Supported Employment Agency staff.

Through participation in the scheme, three of the interns have already secured employment where they will put the skills and work experience they have developed into action. One, George Breeze, has been taken on as ambassador for the Engage to Change project with consortium partner All Wales People First, the united voice of self-advocacy groups and people with additional learning needs. Ten of the learners are expected to find employment, with one being signposted to another organisation.

Luke Evans has just had his internship with Cardiff and Vale College extended. He assists the College’s venue hire team.

“I started Project SEARCH last September,” Luke said. “It’s been really interesting and I’ve learned lots of new skills.

“I’ve really enjoyed the experience and I would like to follow a career in Hospitality. Project SEARCH has really helped me work out what career I want – I think I wouldn’t have been so sure if I hadn’t got on it.

“I think I have changed since Project SEARCH. I was nervous at the beginning but now I think I’ve grown.”

Speaking at the ceremony Martin Breeze, the father of graduate and Engage to Change ambassador George Breeze, said: “I cannot believe what’s been achieved in such a short space of time – it’s been incredible. We have always know he could achieve everything he wants in life and now George knows he can as well.”

Past intern Shane Halton, who works for the University, also spoke. He said: “Through Project SEARCH I have developed my confidence by working with other people. Recently I have passed my driving test and bought a car with my savings from work.

“I’ve also booked a holiday abroad. I’ve never been on an aircraft before and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Cardiff and Vale College Head of Preparation for Life and Work and Widening Participation Wayne Carter said: “Project SEARCH has been a fantastic success in providing opportunities for our learners with the motivation, desire and skills development to succeed through the supported internship model. We are delighted that so many young people are reaching their full potential and graduating with positive outcomes.

“The impact of the programme is not only the success of the individual but the learning being undertaken by all partners in creating better outcomes for young people. The collaborative approach between partners with CAVC, ELITE Supported Employment Agency and Cardiff University has enabled the project to simulate a true working environment with specialised support from each partner that truly transforms lives by unlocking potential.”

Cardiff University Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Karen Holford said: “It’s wonderful to once again congratulate our interns on their hard work and contribution to the University.

“I’m delighted to hear that so many interns from last year have found employment and I am sure that the current group are also well equipped to succeed.

“I very much hope they will go on to enjoy long and fulfilling careers. Well done to all of them.”

The Project SEARCH scheme, started at Cincinnati Children’s hospital Medical Center by Director Erin Riehle, is funded in Wales by the Engage to Change project, which works with employers to help young people with additional learning needs develop employment skills through work placements and support into paid employment.

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