A GROUP of young people with learning disabilities graduated from a ground-breaking internship scheme based at Torbay Hospital.
Project SEARCH has had success all over the world and is being delivered in Torbay by South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, South Devon College and local social enterprise Pluss which provides specialist employment support services across South Devon for people with disabilities and long-term health conditions.
The programme runs over an academic year, during which time the students work towards a City and Guilds Diploma in Employability and Personal Development. The aim is to remove the significant barriers faced by people with a learning disability and to help the students find paid employment within the hospital or elsewhere in the community.
Only 4.9 per cent of people with a learning disability living in Torbay are currently in employment.
This year's cohort of ten students, aged between 18 and 24, worked in three placement rotations in different areas within the trust including catering, postal services, portering, medical records and the Patient Access Centre.
During the past year, the interns have carried out tasks relevant to their placement, returning to the base room at the end of each day to assess how their day has gone as well as learning other communication, problem-solving and job-specific skills.
Already one of the graduates, Paul Mitchell, 22, has secured a position at the hospital as a transfusion practitioner administration assistant.
Paul said: "I am responsible for safe practice of blood transfusions in the hospital. It's a very technical and complicated role. This is my first ever permanent job. When I got offered the post I was a bit shocked and surprised. It's good to pay my parents towards my housekeeping and mobile.
"It has been a good experience to do Project SEARCH. It has helped me get paid work; it's also been fun, I have gained new skills and made new friends. I really gave it all I could.
"I have a learning disability and this makes reading and writing hard, but since I have had this job I am getting much better. I am a very different person now; much more confident and I feel proud."
The graduation ceremony was opened by chairman of South Devon Healthcare Trust, Sir Richard Ibbotson, who said: "I feel honoured to be here today to join in the students' celebration.
"This is the second year that Torbay Hospital has hosted Project SEARCH and I am proud to be part of something that is helping to get our local young people with a learning disability into paid employment. Long may this fantastic scheme continue."
Torbay Mayor, Gordon Oliver, presented the interns with their Certificates and said "I would like to congratulate all the interns and staff of the partner organisations who made the project such a success. The ten interns can all feel very proud of their achievements."
Stephen Criddle, principal at South Devon College, is delighted with the intern's success, "The college is pleased to be part of the Project SEARCH model and how it is supporting our learners within their work placements and into paid work opportunities. This project has made a real difference to those engaged; their attitudes to work, how to be a good employee, and how to be a real asset within a working team environment".