Moment of truth arrives for Project Search interns

The moment of truth has arrived for eight young Canterbury people with learning disabilities, who have spent the year at Burwood Hospital in Christchurch learning skills they hope will land them jobs.

The interns are part of Project SEARCH, hosted by Canterbury District Health Board. They have been learning about the work environment in a classroom setting, while doing real work at the same time throughout the hospital. The programme, run for the first time in 2019, has been rated a success and next year will be expanded to include nine interns.

Project SEARCH is open to students between the ages of 18 and 21, who are in their last year of school and qualify for Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) funding.

The interns work in various areas in the hospital and each rotation gives them an opportunity to try something new. It can include setting up clinics at the start of the day, delivering linen, assisting orderlies, working in food services and helping the maintenance and gardening teams. At the end of the programme, approaches are made to employers to give these young people jobs.

Project SEARCH takes a partnership approach. The IHC Foundation is contributing $128,250 towards funding the roles of tutor and a skills trainer. CCS Disability Action has a critical role in supporting the interns to be work-ready, while Riccarton High School is the managing school.

Project SEARCH aims to find each intern at least 16 hours’ employment a week on completing the programme, to encourage other employers to run their own Project SEARCH programmes and to break down barriers for young people with disabilities who want to enter the workforce. The Canterbury DHB programme was the first in Australasia, although there are more than 600 programmes operating mainly in the United States and Europe.

“We have used this as an opportunity to evaluate our diversity strategy as an employer,” says Michael Frampton, Chief People Officer for the DHB. “It’s really wonderful to see the way in which having these young people in Burwood has contributed to morale.”

Michael says that as the DHB is the South Island’s biggest employer – with 10,500 staff – a programme like Project SEARCH can really “move the dial” in helping young people with disabilities to find work. “It is something that we can do and something that we should do.

“When we hold a mirror up to ourselves as an organisation, what we see needs to reflect the communities that we are here to care for. We’re learning as much from them and having them in our organisation as they are learning from us.”

Michael says the DHB used to ask people applying for jobs to provide passports or driver licences. It has ditched that requirement after realising, in the course of employing these interns, that it was a barrier to employment. 

“There is an enormous amount to gain and learn about having young talented people like these as part of a programme.” And Michael is confident that jobs are waiting. “There is strong interest from other employers, and we are very optimistic that a good number of our interns from the 2019 programme will secure employment.”

Photo caption: Project Search intern Ricky Reeves has discovered that he wants to work with his hands and with technology.


This story was published in Community Moves. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members.

Read the full issue of Community Moves online here.