Background Information

Background Information

DFN Project Search is an international transition to work programme committed to transforming the lives of young people.  It provides real-life work experience, combined with training in employability and independent-living skills, to young people with learning disabilities and/or autistic spectrum conditions who want to go on to find paid employment. 

DFN Project SEARCH University of Aberdeen offers a one-year Internship programme to twelve young people aged 16-24 every year who are supported to undertake 3 work placements within the University and study towards City & Guilds qualifications. 

Upon graduation, the Interns receive support to enter paid employment and to date, 68% of our graduates are now in employment in the North East of Scotland – nearly 10 times above the average employment rate for those with a learning disability who do not enter any type of post-school programme. Since the programme began, nearly 80 young people have achieved employment in a variety of organisations across the North-East of Scotland.

Project SEARCH University of Aberdeen launched in September 2013 and is hosted by the University on our King’s College campus.

International Background to the Project

Project SEARCH began in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in the USA in 1996 where the Director of the Emergency Department felt that, because the hospital served individuals with developmental disabilities, it made sense that they committed to recruiting members of staff from this group. She came up with the idea that it would be possible to train people with developmental disabilities to fill some of the high turnover, entry level positions in her department.

In 2012, the Scottish Government brought the programme to Scotland and provided funding for 3 licences to be issued – and the University of Aberdeen programme launched in September 2013.

There are currently over 600 Project SEARCH sites worldwide, spanning 47 US states, 11 countries and supported by businesses in both the public and private sectors.

In July 2019, the David Forbes Nixon Foundation established DFN Project SEARCH which holds the exclusive franchise rights for delivering the programme in the UK, Ireland and Iberia.

Partnership Organisations

Our project is a partnership involving several organisations, including Values Into Action Scotland (VIAS) (which holds the licence to operate the programme) and North East Scotland College (where our Interns are registered students). 

Our Interns also receive support during and after their Project SEARCH year from various other partner organisations, including colleagues from Skills Development Scotland, the Department for Work & Pensions and the Aberdeenshire Council Employability Team.


The programme is delivered from the dedicated classroom based in the Butchart Building from September to June each year.

Interns receive tuition and support to study for the City & Guilds Certificate in Employability Skills.

Internships (Work Experience Placement Rotations)

The Interns undertake 3 Internships during their Project SEARCH year.  During the Covid-19 pandemic, as much in-person work experience as possible is provided (as restrictions allow) and Interns are provided with training and support in undertaking hybrid/online placements too.

By the time they graduate, Interns leave with over 800 hours of work experience on their CVs. 

Internships vary from year-to-year, but previous placements have been based in the following areas of the University:

  • Estates & Facilities;
  • Catering & Commercial Services;
  • Digital & Information (IT) Services;
  • Music Department;
  • Suttie Centre;
  • Rocking Horse Nursery.

We also have a number of external internships available in:

  • North East Scotland College
  • Aberdeenshire Council
  • Aberdeen Sports Village
  • Inspire Catering
Employer Quotes

Working with Project Search enabled ScotRail to attract a more diverse range of candidates for roles than we have historically been able to do on our own.

One such candidate secured a Modern Apprenticeship after an open and competitive recruitment process and has been an excellent addition to the ScotRail Team, displaying enthusiasm and commitment right from their first day with us.

We look forward to working with Project Search again in the future as we look to increase the diversity of our workforce.

Margaret Mellon
Vocational Qualifications Manager
SQA/City & Guilds Accredited Centre Coordinator
Assessor/Lead Quality Assurer