This is a success story worth sharing

May 26, 2022

Project SEARCH in Canterbury is finding great jobs for disabled school leavers. The challenge now is to share that success with many more young people.

“Interns are out there working in good jobs and above minimum wage and proving what they can do,” says Project SEARCH tutor Linda Leishman, who is guiding her fourth set of interns this year.

Project SEARCH is hosted by the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB). Interns spend a year at Burwood Hospital learning about the work environment in a classroom setting, while doing real work at the same time throughout the hospital.

CCS Disability Action is driving the project and Riccarton High School is the managing school. The IHC Foundation contributed $128,250 to pay for the programme coordinator.

Of the seven interns who graduated in 2021, four have been offered contracts. Three graduates are now employed full time by CDHB. Carl Te Tone Huia is working in the Christchurch Hospital Supplies Department, Wiremu Manahi-Holm is working as an orderly, and James Duthie is an administration officer in Clinical Records. Jacob Levington is working part-time as a grocery assistant at PAK’nSAVE Northlands and can move to full time as soon as he is ready.

Project SEARCH is now trialling a new role of Job Developer to encourage more employers to take on graduates and to help reduce the gap between interns finishing the programme and getting a job. Courtney Murray has been employed to get the word out.

“It’s my job to help them find jobs for themselves and for them to keep the power in their hands,” Courtney says. “When I am interracting with our graduates, I try to keep them in the lead.”

She is proud of the success rate for the 2021 interns. “They are all working meaningful hours in mainstream positions on secure contracts, and they are all being paid minimum wage or higher for their time and service,” she says.

“Most of our success for the 2021 class is through CDHB, with graduates being hired into the departments where they completed their third rotation during their Project SEARCH year.”

For the first six months of the year, Courtney works with the graduates from the previous intake, and then her focus shifts to the present intake. She wants to build connections with employers and is keen to have conversations with any employer wanting to know more about Project SEARCH.

Eight interns graduated in 2019 and 2020, and eight more are enrolled in the 2022 intake. The numbers are small because the programme struggles to get students/interns with Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) funding from the small population base in Canterbury.

“We are only able to take applications from ORS-funded young people at school, so we can capture that ORS funding. At any given time, there might be only 40–50 ORS-funded students. It’s a finite pool that we are drawing from,” Linda says. “There are lots of young people who come out of school who don’t have ORS funding who would benefit from Project SEARCH.”

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

For more information, please contact Courtney at

Caption 1: (Back row from left) Laura Robertson, Wiremu Manahi-Holm, Carl Te Tone Huia, James Duthie, (front row from left) Gabriel Beyrer, Jacob Levington and Bella Lammers.

Caption 2: Project SEARCH 2021 interns at their graduation lunch.


This story was published in Strong Voices. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members. Read the full issue of Strong Voices or view more articles.