Project SEARCH is a one year Internship programme, based on an international model which originated in the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in the USA, supporting young people with additional needs to gain skills and experience to go on to employment.

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

The programme enables twelve Interns per year to receive support to undertake 3 work placements within the University, whilst studying to attain a vocational qualification.  Upon graduation, the Interns receive support to source and sustain paid employment and to date, 68% of our graduates are now in employment within the Grampian area - nearly 10 times above the average employment rate for those with a learning disability who do not enter any type of post-school programme.

Background to the Project

American Origins

Project SEARCH is a transition to work programme for people with learning disabilities and autistic spectrum conditions in their last year of Education. It effectively takes the classroom into the premises of a local employer and teaches Interns employability skills on-site in a real workplace environment.

Project SEARCH originates from the USA, where it began in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 1996. 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 sought to extend the programme within Scotland and provided funding for 3 licences to be issued, one of which was awarded to Aberdeen. As one of the main employers within the Grampian area, the University was identified as a partner of choice for the project.

Interns Group Photo

Project SEARCH has now spread to 521 sites across the world – there are sites in every state in the USA, as well as Canada.

In July 2019, DFN Project SEARCH took over responsibility for the licences for sites in the UK, Ireland and Iberia.

Structure of the Programme

Project SEARCH University of Aberdeen started in September 2013.  We recruit 12 Interns per year and the programme runs from the beginning of September until the end of June.

Interns undertake 3 internships/work placements within the University on a full-time basis. They study to attain a vocational qualification and upon the conclusion of the programme, receive support to source and sustain paid employment.

The programme is delivered on the University of Aberdeen campus, with the main base of operations being the Project SEARCH classroom in the Butchart Building.

Internships (The Work Experience Placement Rotations)

The Interns spend the first month of the programme completing orientation to University culture, procedures and facilities.  This information is delivered mainly by the Job Coach and Tutor, in partnership with a number of individuals from the University.

The Internships/work placements begin in the second month of the programme and it is the normal expectation that each participant will undertake 3 placements over the course of the year.

Internships are available in the following areas of the University:

  • Estates & Facilities
  • Catering & Commercial Services
  • Library, Special Collections & Museums
  • Cruickshank Botanic Garden
  • Finance
  • IT Services
  • Music Department
  • Business School
  • Rocking Horse Nursery

We also have a number of external Internships available in :

  • NHS Grampian
  • North East of Scotland College
  • Aramark Catering

Statistical Information

By the time they graduate, our Interns leave Project SEARCH with a recognised City & Guilds qualification and over 800 hours of work experience on their CVs. That is a tremendous achievement and our approach is unique within the North East of Scotland. This is why our programme is so successful.

Recent statistics have highlighted that 16,000 school children and young people in Scotland have learning disabilities and 26,000 adults in Scotland have learning disabilities and need support. In Scotland, the employment rate is around 74% of the population. However, only 7% of people with a learning disability are in work.

There are currently 16 Project SEARCH sites across Scotland in Session 2018/19 alone, 145 young people across Scotland completed a DFN Project SEARCH programme. A total of 95 of them moved into employment (80 of whom moved into full-time employment). Since Project SEARCH first began in Scotland, 485 young people have found work.

Research has shown that for each DFN Project SEARCH Intern who secures paid work of more than 16 hours per week, the savings to the public purse is at least £1M if they stay in work over their lifetime - and that does not take account of the costs to the health economy (research has shown that long-term unemployment increases the risk of health issues which require NHS treatment and support).