The goal for each student participant is competitive employment. The program provides real-life work experience combined with training in employability and independent living skills to help youths with significant disabilities make successful transitions from school to productive adult life. The Project SEARCH model involves an extensive period of training and career exploration, innovative adaptations, long-term job coaching, and continuous feedback from teachers, job coaches, and employers. As a result, at the completion of the training program, students with significant intellectual disabilities are employed in nontraditional, complex and rewarding jobs. The presence of a Project SEARCH High School Transition Program can bring about long-term changes in business culture that have far-reaching positive effects on attitudes about hiring people with disabilities and the range of jobs in which they can be successful.
Project SEARCH serves students with significant intellectual and developmental disabilities. Typically, these are students who are on an Individual Education Program (IEP) and in their last year of high school eligibility. The most important criterion for acceptance into Project SEARCH is a desire to achieve competitive employment.
Students attend the program for a full school year in the host business/hospital. The business provides access to an on-site classroom that can accommodate up to 12 students. The site is staffed by a special education teacher and one to three job coaches to meet the educational and training needs of the students.
- Once the school year begins, the first few weeks of the program are focused on new employee orientation, hands-on skill assessment, and familiarization within the business environment. Students develop a career plan which guides the internship selection process and individualized job search.
- Employment Skills Curriculum: Throughout the school year, the students work on employability and functional skills for approximately one hour of their day. Classroom activities are designed around these focus areas: Team Building, Getting Around your Workplace, Workplace Safety, Technology, Social Skills, Communication, Presentation Skills, Interviewing Skills, Money Management, Health and Wellness, Job Search Skills and Keeping a Job.
- Internships/Worksite Rotations: Through a series of three targeted internships the students acquire competitive, marketable and transferable skills to enable them to apply for a related position. Students also build communication, teamwork and problem-solving skills which is important to their overall development as a young worker. These are unpaid student work experiences-analogous to the clinical rotations that are part of every medical school or business internship program. Potential student worksites are identified through a continuous collaborative process involving the teacher, job coaches and business liaison. These internship rotations begin a few weeks after the start of the program. Students are required to interact with their supervisors via telephone and written communications to arrange a job interview to secure each rotation. A department mentor is identified at each site. The mentor interacts with the instructor, job coaches, and the student as a consistent source of guidance and feedback. Students spend approximately five hours each day at the internships including a thirty minute lunch. Working from a task list, they acquire the core skills necessary to be hired in an entry-level position at the host business site or in the community. Job coaches and department staff collaborate to provide support for students. The Project SEARCH staff delivers the training and develops job accommodations and standard work procedures. Once the students master the core skills, additional skills are layered on to improve their marketability.
Job Placement and Community Connections
During the last few months of the program the emphasis is on refining skills, achieving the career goal, and carrying out individualized job placement. The Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor becomes an even more important part of the team as the job search process begins. Job development and placement occurs based on the student's experiences, strengths, and skills. Linkages to appropriate services in the community are critical at this stage, as students prepare to graduate from the program, to ensure a successful transition to employment and adult life. Services are identified in the community that provide assistance with necessary adaptations required to perform a specific job, job coaching, and long-term follow along are arranged usually through the local Developmental Disability organization. . Upon satisfactory completion of the program (95% or better attendance, good attitude, successful skill acquisition at each job site) students receive a Career Portfolio. The contents of the packet will vary among replicated program sites, but generally the packets contain a resume, letters of recommendation, a competency profile, any awards or special recognition received while in the program.
Students are referred to the program through their schools, family member, or Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor and apply in the winter and spring in the year prior to entering the program. A team representative of all the partners: Project SEARCH teacher, host business liaison, VR Counselor, community rehabilitation provider staff and other appropriate staff carry out the selection process which includes tours, student interviews, hands-on assessments at the host sites and scoring on a rubric related to entrance considerations.