Nine students from Preston have become the first in Lancashire to graduate from an innovative scheme which supports young people with additional needs as they move from education into employment.
Project SEARCH is a year-long programme which develops new skills for students with learning disabilities who are aged 16-24 with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) and in their final year of school or college.
It is a partnership between Lancashire County Council, Preston’s College, the Supported Employment Agency and the Department for Work and Pensions.
Lancashire County Council is the host employer providing the students with jobs in a range of departments including the library service, catering, facilities management, highways, fostering and adoption and the authority’s own Inclusion Service (formerly SEND Service).
Preston’s College supported the learners through enrolment and throughout their year at college, with Student Managers and in-class support to assist them with their course and college life.
Angie Ridgwell, chief executive of the council, and Cllr Geoff Driver CBE, leader of the council, hosted the graduation ceremony at County Hall alongside Dr Lis Smith, principal and chief executive of Preston’s College, plus representatives from Project SEARCH.
Ms Ridgwell said: “Lancashire County Council is committed to ensuring young people with additional needs have the opportunity to enter the jobs market. We know only 6 per cent of people with learning disabilities living in the UK move into employment but that many more people want to.
“We have taken a strategic approach to ensure that young people in Lancashire with learning disabilities have access to a tried and tested programme that delivers outcomes that are 10 times that national average on a consistent basis.
“Programmes are in place in Preston and Burnley, and we are developing a programme in the North of the county. We are very proud that as well as licensing and supporting these programmes through our Inclusion Service we are also supporting the programme in Preston as a host employer too.
“We believe it is important for us to demonstrate that not only do we have high ambition for our young people but we can show ourselves to be an inclusive employer who takes advantage of this fantastic pool of talent.”
Dr Smith said: “As a college we play an important role in delivering high quality education programmes and making our learners the most employable. We have an inclusive and proactive recruitment policy and support learners of all ages, walks of life and abilities to develop skills and achieve their potential.
“We are extremely proud of our learners and it was a joy to celebrate their success at the event with all the partners who supported them in this programme, and we look forward to the next group of young people to start this programme.”
Cllr Driver said: “It was a wonderful event to celebrate the achievements of so many young people. Hearing their stories and meeting their families emphasised to everyone who attended just how important Project SEARCH is.”
The students were awarded graduation certificates by Cllr Phillippa Williamson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, and Edwina Grant OBE, executive director for education and children’s services.
Supported Employment Agency provides job coaching and job development for students at the host business and in their paid careers.
The Department for Work and Pensions ensures ’Access to Work’ funding is available for each job coach.
Project SEARCH first started over 20 years ago in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and has supported over 6,000 young people around the world to learn skills and improve their careers.
Parent Carers and students seeking more information can visit the Project SEARCH website.
To be eligible for a future programme in your area students need to be 16-24 years old, have appropriate communication and social skills for the business, be able to take direction, be willing and able to travel independently, have a desire to work and have parent carer support.