What is Project SEARCH?
Project SEARCH is a business-led collaboration that enables young adults with disabilities to gain and maintain employment through training and career exploration.
Project SEARCH is a 9 month program which provides training and education leading to integrated employment for individuals with disabilities. The program occurs on-site at a high status community business. Project SEARCH serves as a workforce alternative for students in their last year of high school. At some sites, young adults who have completed high school may be eligible to participate in Project SEARCH. Each student applies to the program and is accepted through a selection committee process. All students must be eligible for services with the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR).
Project SEARCH is based on a partnership that includes a local business, a school, DVR, a vocational services agency and a disability services agency, such as a managed care organization. In Wisconsin Rapids, we are paired with Aspirus Riverview Hospital, Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools, Nekoosa Public Schools, Port Edwards Public Schools, DVR, and ODC. Other members include ADRC, IRIS, and Inclusa. All partners are vital to the success of the program. The business provides a training classroom, a business liaison and rotational internships for on-the-job training. The school provides an instructor. DVR works with a local vocational services agency to supply job coaches who support the students on their internships as needed and assist with final job placement. The disability services agency provides follow along services for any eligible student who is hired at the business site or in the community.
The cornerstone of Project SEARCH is total immersion in a large business. Each day, students report to the host business, learn employability skills in the classroom and job skills while participating in three or four internships during the year. If available, students utilize public transportation. Students participate in progress meetings to define their career goal and plan necessary steps to achieve that goal. Managers at the internship sites work with the Project SEARCH instructor and job coaches to support the students. The ultimate goal for students upon program completion is competitive community employment utilizing the skills learned on their internships and throughout their Project SEARCH experience.
Where did Project SEARCH Begin?
Project SEARCH was developed at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, a research environment that fosters visionary thinking and innovation. It all began in 1996, when Erin Riehle was Director of Cincinnati Children's Emergency Department. Erin felt that, because the hospital served individuals with developmental disabilities, it made sense that they should commit to hiring people in this group. She wondered if it would be possible to train people with developmental disabilities to fill some of the high-turnover, entry level positions in her department, which involved complex and systematic tasks such as stocking supply cabinets. As a starting point, Erin presented her ideas to Susie Rutkowski, then the special education director at Great Oaks Career Campuses. Erin and Susie formed a partnership that was instantaneous, and together they launched Project SEARCH.
Since its inception, Project SEARCH has grown from a single program site at Cincinnati Children's to over 300 sites across the United States and Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Australia. Project SEARCH's primary objective is to secure competitive employment for people with disabilities.