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Scottish Business Minister Joins DFN Project SEARCH As It Celebrates Ten Years At University Hospital Wishaw

Scottish Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, Jamie Hepburn has joined DFN Project SEARCH to celebrate ten years at University Hospital Wishaw.

The leading transition to employment charity for young people with learning disabilities and autism established its first Scottish programme at University Hospital Wishaw in September 2010.

Since then 78 students with special education needs and disability have graduated through the Wishaw programme and 72% of those have moved into paid work.

The Minister joined project partners and former graduates at an inspiring virtual event to celebrate the landmark during UK Disability History Month.

Claire Cookson, CEO at DFN Project SEARCH, said: "We are very proud of the success of our programme at University Hospital Wishaw in helping young people with autism and learning disabilities get great jobs which truly transform their lives."

DFN Project SEARCH, a leading transition to employment charity for young people with learning disabilities and autism, is celebrating ten years at University Hospital Wishaw.

The pioneering supported internship programme celebrated the landmark on December 8th during a virtual event with its partners and the Scottish Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, Jamie Hepburn MSP.

The project partners include NHS Lanarkshire as the host business, New College Lanarkshire as the education provider, and North Lanarkshire Council as the supported employment provider.

The programme has been a huge success in transforming the lives of young people with learning disabilities and autism after being established in September 2010.

Seventy-eight students have graduated through the programme with 56 going on to get paid jobs.

Many now remain in frontline roles across NHS Lanarkshire, making a huge impact during the Pandemic, spanning laboratory assistants, porters, administration, catering, retail, domestics, waste management operators and customer services.

These amazing jobs have also transformed the lives of these young people, bringing greater independence, and widening their aspirations.

Amongst the graduates there have been two weddings, three babies, ten now live independently, including three buying their own homes, passing driving tests and buying cars, and further education whilst in work.

The success is testament to the effectiveness of DFN Project SEARCH’s pioneering transition to work programme and the brilliant partnership in Lanarkshire, which equips its interns with so many employability skills for jobs that are making a difference to the country in a time of crisis.

DFN Project SEARCH now has 16 programmes in Scotland, offering its partners a high-performing evidenced-based programme, materials and support structure to effectively support young people with learning disabilities and autism to transition from education into full-time, integrated, competitive employment.

In the past 12 months in Scotland, 66 per cent of its 145 interns secured a paid job. Eighty of these graduates, secured a full-time job, which is a huge improvement on the percentage of people in Scotland with Learning Disabilities and Autism who are known to Local Authorities which stands at just seven per cent.

The University Hospital Wishaw partnership shows how collaboration between the NHS, local authorities, colleges and schools and supported employment providers; partnered with the evidence-based DFN Project SEARCH programme, can be a force for transformative change in the lives of young people with learning disabilities.

The programme has been such a success with NHS Lanarkshire that it has been rolled-out to further sites at University Hospital Hairmyres and University Hospital Monklands.

Claire Cookson, CEO at DFN Project SEARCH, said: “It is very pleasing to have Scottish Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, Jamie Hepburn, with us to celebrate ten years at University Hospital Wishaw.

"We are very proud of the success of our programme in helping young people with autism and learning disabilities get great jobs which truly transform their lives.

"There have been so many inspiring stories during the past ten years that challenge the social hierarchy and show how young people with autism and learning disabilities can make a huge contribution to society."

Carmel McKeogh, director and programme specialist at DFN Project SEARCH, said: “Most recently our graduates at University Hospital Wishaw have certainly risen to the challenge even further in frontline roles and continue to do amazing work within local communities.

"The success they are having is testament to the effectiveness of our pioneering transition to work programme along with the strength of our partnership with NHS Lanarkshire, New College Lanarkshire and North Lanarkshire Council.

"Society is now beginning to better understand the value and skill set that people with learning disabilities and autism can bring to the workplace and we now have a huge opportunity to transform workplace culture throughout the country and drive long-term change through supported internships that are proven to work in driving change and more fairness for all."

Heather Knox, Chief Executive, NHS Lanarkshire, said: "I am delighted that NHS Lanarkshire has been able to support this brilliant project for the last 10 years.

"DFN Project Search offers work experience opportunities to young people with learning disabilities and autism and over the last 10 years 78 students have graduated from the programme after undertaking a range of roles across NHS Lanarkshire.

"I am also extremely pleased that more than half have obtained permanent positions within NHS Lanarkshire including clerical assistants, domestics, laboratory assistants, porters and clinical support workers.

"While we offer the opportunities, it is the young people themselves who are the inspiration to everyone they work with from their lecturers, job coaches, site mentors and the wider NHS family."

Professor Christopher Moore, Principal and Chief Executive of New College Lanarkshire, said: “It is our privilege to be the Education lead for the DFN Project SEARCH programmes at University Hospitals Wishaw, Monklands and Hairmyres.

"This Project exemplifies the principle of social justice that drives our purpose as a College. We are determined to create a learning community that is absolute in our commitment to equality, diversity, excellence and fairness. NCL is determined to raise aspirations and fulfil the life potential of all our Students

"The last nine months have highlighted the importance of strong partnerships and the enormous value of our health services. I would like to convey our heartfelt thanks to the students, staff, families, friends and carers who have all played a vital role over the last decade in making DFN Project SEARCH at Wishaw the life-changing success that it is."

Des Murray, Chief Executive at North Lanarkshire Council said: "I can think of no other programme as transformative as DFN Project Search. Not just for the young people involved, but for their families and loved ones, seeing their children thrive and become strong, independent young adults.

"It's about realising hopes and dreams, proving what can be achieved if people are given the right supports, and most importantly, the opportunity to succeed."

DFN Project SEARCH has ambitions to get 15,000 young adults with learning difficulties and autism into full-time paid jobs over the next decade.

Today the DFN Project SEARCH charity has 69 internationally recognised programmes across the UK, Ireland and Iberia, and has supported over 1500 interns into work, 1350 of which meet Project SEARCH’s success criteria. This criteria means that the work is over 16 hours per week, is non seasonal, is paid the prevailing wage for the role and that the work is in an integrated setting.

On average 60 per cent of graduates obtain full-time paid employment meeting these criteria. Yet an additional 10 per cent find some type of paid employment, meaning the lives of 70 per cent of graduates are changed for the better.