Devon shows strong employment figures for people with learning disabilities

SEARCH achievers

Posted on: 18 July 2016

There’s been a significant rise in the number of people with learning disabilities gaining paid employment thanks largely to supported internship programmes like the Barnstaple Project SEARCH, says Devon County Council.

Nationally less than 7 per cent of people with learning disabilities are in any form of paid work, compared to 73 per cent of the wider population.

Just four years ago Devon’s figure was below that, but today nearly 10 per cent of people with learning disabilities across the county are in paid employment.

Barnstaple’s Project SEARCH launched in 2013 with Devon County Council funding, and is one of 38 Project SEARCH programmes in the UK.

The programmes aim to increase people’s employability, build confidence, develop life skills and encourage independence.

An essential part of the programme is practical on-the-job training with an employer.

This week, 9 young people graduated from the Barnstaple programme, run in conjunction with Petroc College, Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, and Pluss.

In partnership with the County Council, the college supported the students to complete three 10 to 12-week rotations in a variety of departments at Barnstaple’s North Devon District Hospital.

The students had an onsite classroom at the hospital, and were supported by an instructor and job coach to undertake on-the-job training and coursework.

Sodexo, which manages catering, cleaning and portering services for the Trust, also offers placements on the site and, towards the end of their programme, supported placements at other local community hospitals might also be possible.

The programmes run over an academic year, during which time students work towards a City and Guilds Diploma in Employability and Personal Development. At the end of the year they are helped to find paid employment.

Since its launch the Barnstaple Project SEARCH has helped nearly 80 percent of its students into paid employment or traineeship.

In its second year, the programme was the highest achieving of all the Project SEARCH programmes in the country, with a record 86 per cent job success.

Cllr James McInnesDevon County Council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility for education and young people, Cllr James McInnes, said:

“We’re doing some great work in Devon to support people with special educational needs through their education and into paid employment. Project Search, and other Supported Internships across the County, really help people to achieve by breaking down many of the barriers faced by people with learning disabilities when they’re looking for employment.”

Student Alex Watson, who was recently accepted onto a traineeship at Barnstaple Health Centre, said:

“My confidence levels have skyrocketed since starting Project SEARCH. I feel successful and very proud of myself.”

Tom Curtis secured a six month contract as a clinical therapy support worker. He said:

“Everyone has helped me to take on new challenges and to feel confident to help patients. You are always motivated on Project SEARCH – the mentors truly understand the challenges and give the best help and support.”

Diane Dimond, Principal of Petroc, said:

“We are immensely proud to be involved in the pioneering work of Project SEARCH and have seen it grow from strength to strength over the past three years. The scheme has transformed the lives of so many of our supported learning students and we are delighted to learn that, thanks to the skills learnt programme, many current and former Project SEARCH students have now secured employment in North Devon.

Dr Alison Diamond, chief executive of Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs North Devon District and Bideford hospitals, said:

“Congratulations to our nine Project SEARCH students. It is a huge privilege to support the students on this annual programme – they all provide an added dimension to the teams they rotate around with their vitality, dedication and work ethic. It is great to see how many go on to secure employment within the Trust and North Devon.”

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