University internships break new ground

11 November 2016

University internships break new ground

A major international project which provides employment and learning opportunities for young people with disabilities is running in Wales for the first time.

Twelve young people with conditions such as autism spectrum disorder and learning disabilities have been given internships at Cardiff University as part of Project SEARCH, which started in USA 20 years ago.

The young Cardiff and Vale College (CAVC) students will complete three 10-week internships in departments at the University, with the support of CAVC and ELITE Supported Employment Agency (ELITE SEA).

Cardiff University is one of just three universities in the UK to be involved in Project SEARCH.

The scheme is funded in Wales by the wider Engage to Change project, which works with employers to help young people with learning disabilities and/or autism to develop employment skills through work placements and support into paid employment.

Learning Disability Wales was awarded £10m by the Big Lottery Fund – one of Wales’s largest Lottery grants - to lead a consortium of organisations to deliver Engage to Change. The Getting Ahead 2 grant was developed in partnership with Welsh Government to meet priorities for supporting children and young people.

Cardiff University is researching the success of Project SEARCH through its research team at the National Centre for Mental Health, as part of its evaluation of the whole Engage to Change project.

Project SEARCH started at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center after its director Erin Riehle wanted to train people with disabilities to fill some of the high-turnover, entry-level positions in her department.

It is now an international phenomenon found in hundreds of locations in USA, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, Netherlands and Australia but never previously in Wales.

Erin Riehle, Project SEARCH Founder and Director, said: “I am really excited to be partnering with Cardiff University for the first Project SEARCH programme in Wales..."

It is hoped that the skills they pick up will boost their chances of finding meaningful, full-time paid employment.

Shane Halton, 18, an intern in the School of Chemistry, said: “Getting a job at the end of it is my aim and getting experience towards getting a job..."

“I’m learning new things. When I first started I was doing spreadsheets for risk assessments and user manuals.

“I’ve since been going around the labs making sure everything is safe and people are using the right equipment, and I’ve been removing chemicals that people have finished using.

“I’ve most enjoyed going to the labs because I like being on my feet and getting to know all the different chemicals.”

Hollie Newbury, 21, an intern in the University’s Human Resources department, said: “I didn’t know what it would be like but I’ve been filing and I’m enjoying it..."

“The people are all really nice and welcoming and I can get on with it at my own pace.

“I’m getting good experience and I want to get a job at the end of it.”

Professor Elizabeth Treasure, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University,said: “Working closely with Cardiff and Vale College, ELITE SEA and Learning Disability Wales, we jumped at the chance to be the first employer in Wales to offer internships as part of this excellent project..."

Kay Martin, Deputy Principal of Cardiff and Vale College, said: “Project SEARCH is a unique and ground-breaking project for young people with learning disabilities, and we’re delighted to be the first and only college in Wales to be offering such a meaningful opportunity that will support our learners’ progression into employment.

“As is the case with all of our learners, the ultimate goal is to see them progress and this project - led on behalf of Cardiff and Vale College by Tom Snelgrove, Head of Preparation for Life and Work and his Independent Living Skills team – is a prime example of that by providing the experience and knowledge that only real-life working environments in a leading organisation such as Cardiff University can provide.”

Jenna Trakins, of Learning Disability Wales on behalf of the Engage to Change partnership, said: “The Engage to Change project is delighted to have established the first Welsh Project SEARCH site at Cardiff University..."

Chris English, Operations Manager of ELITE SEA, said: “ELITE Supported Employment Agency, as one of the delivery partners of the Engage to Change Project, are extremely pleased to be involved in the first Project SEARCH venture in Wales.

“We have built a strong relationship with Cardiff and Vale College and along with a very prestigious and supportive employer like Cardiff University, we are confident that this project will be a resounding success.”