Supporting people with learning disabilities into work

Project SEARCH is a programme where employers provide supported placements to young people with learning disabilities, which can lead to full time work. Every academic year Project Search places 12 interns from the local community into roles at the Trust.  Each intern rotates across three different departments in 10-12 week blocks and takes part in daily classroom sessions. Sherrane Clarke, clinical theatre manager at Charing Cross Hospital, tells us why having Project SEARCH interns has really enhanced her team.

When I was a band seven nurse in theatres at Charing Cross Hospital, I helped my manager organise a placement in my department for a Project SEARCH intern. I was so happy with the experience that when I was promoted to clinical theatre manager, I decided to work with the programme again.

Support for interns and teams

Our Project SEARCH job coach made the process very simple. The coach spent some time in our department to find a suitable role, and matched an intern with us based on their individual strengths. All of the coaches are based on-site at the Trust to support managers and interns throughout placements.

Throughout the duration of the programme, the interns spend the first hour of each day in the classroom for the study element of the programme, taught by the Project SEARCH team, where they learn general skills that they will need in a working environment such as teamworking skills. Then they come to their placement in our department. At the end of their working day they go back to the classroom to ‘debrief’ and talk about how their day has gone. If any issues crop up during their day, they can discuss these with their supervisor and resolve things before they leave, so they aren’t taking any worries home with them.

Our job coach, Emma, was very supportive and we had really open communication with the Project SEARCH team. I would meet them once a week to give updates on the intern’s progress, and if I had any concerns I could raise them then. I always discussed anything I was planning to raise with the intern beforehand.

Front line training

On the first day of the programme, you meet the interns alongside the other managers offering placements at the Trust. Meeting the interns was really exciting, and I think they were excited to meet us as well. The coaches had already told us which intern would be joining our department, so I had a chat with him and gave him an overview of what to expect in theatres. Like any other member of the team, he got his ID badge, went through induction, and got fitted for theatre shoes!

Our intern did two placements in the role of healthcare assistant in theatres. As we would with any other healthcare assistant, we started by showing him simple tasks before moving onto more complex jobs.

He started in ‘dispatch and delivery’, where sets of surgical instruments are received, processed, checked and sent out to an external supplier to be cleaned. It’s a good place to start, as it offers an introduction to surgery.

His second placement was in theatre. He helped move patients onto the operating table, used the computer and worked with patient documentation. He also helped set up the theatres in the morning. These are all essential tasks and so he played an important role in our work.

Mentorship is a key part of the programme – it’s beneficial for the interns but also an opportunity for existing staff to gain skills. We assigned a band seven nurse to supervise our intern and teach him how to do his role. As a team, we all tried to be approachable and encouraged him to share opinions, questions or concerns about anything that happened during the day.

A rewarding experience

Taking on a Project SEARCH intern was a really positive experience for us. Our first intern, Nimo, is now a full-time member of our team! Watching our interns move from novice to expert in their roles has been so rewarding. By the end of their internships, they are able to work independently – they really grow into a member of the team.

It was great to see staff on my team engaging with Nimo as well. They have benefited from working with people who learn differently as they’ve taken on new techniques and approaches to teaching. Working with a Project SEARCH intern has helped my team understand the challenges people with learning disabilities can face in communicating, and staff apply what they’ve learned to their interactions with our patients and their families. It’s also positive for our patients who have learning disabilities and their families to see someone like them working on the ward. Managers are also learning to make reasonable adjustments to the recruitment process if an intern applies for a job, for example, by observing them while they are working instead of asking them to complete a numeracy or literacy test.

Managers considering offering a Project SEARCH placement should give it a try and have an open mind. It’s important to engage the staff in your team beforehand – I made sure to speak to the healthcare assistants in theatres to prepare them for this change. I’d recommend managers take advantage of the support offered by Project SEARCH job coaches, as they were really supportive throughout the whole process. 

Celebrating the interns at their graduation ceremony and watching them get jobs was so rewarding. We’re definitely going to continue providing Project SEARCH placements in my team, and I hope to see many other managers do the same.

Project SEARCH works to place interns at the Trust in partnership with: Sodexo, Brent Council, College of North West London, Kaleidoscope Sabre, Action on Disability and Kaleidoscope Sabre

Do you manage a team at our Trust and want to host a Project SEARCH intern? Email Camila Mujica-Braesyde on to find out more.