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Our Programme

DFN Project SEARCH Transition to Work Programme

The solution to many problems faced by young people with a learning disability, autism spectrum condition, or both is straightforward: competitive employment.

The DFN Project SEARCH programme provides real work experience combined with training in employability and independent living skills delivered in a business setting to help young people make successful transitions to productive adult life.

It is a partnership between a host business, education provider, and professional adult supported employment provider. The goal is to provide full-time paid work for our interns in an integrated setting.

DFN Project SEARCH programme

Full-time supported internship at a host business
800 hours of marketable skills acquisition
Three 10-week rotations across the host business whist also studying for an employability qualification
A focused employability curriculum delivered from the workplace
Opportunities to learn with prestigious employer partners
Combination of tutors and trained job coach support

Programme Outcomes

Unlike other employment programmes in the UK, we only consider an employment outcome successful if it meets the following criteria: at least 16 hours per week, paid at the prevailing rate for the job, non-seasonal, and in an integrated work setting. Work of at least 16 hours per week, paid at the National Living Wage is necessary for financial independence. Non-seasonal work is important because young adults with a learning disability need sustainable jobs and an integrated setting provides the best opportunities for career progression.

Our Interns – Are you eligible?

DFN Project SEARCH serves young people with a learning disability or autism spectrum conditions, or both.

Typically, these are young people eligible to take school or college places. However, the most important criteria is a desire to achieve full time employment.

Learners with an EHCP or equivalent remain on roll at their school or college but are based full-time with a host business’ to ‘learners who meet the local admission criteria remain on roll at their school or college but are based full time with a host business.

Throughout the programme year, interns work on employability and functional skills. Training room activities are designed around: Team Building, Workplace Safety, Technology, Maintaining Employment, Self-Advocacy, Financial Literacy, Health and Wellness, and Preparing for Employment.

Our Partners


“When you see the impact DFN Project SEARCH has on young lives and you see young people gain confidence and start to believe in themselves and what they can do, it’s an amazing thing.”

Des Murray
Chief Executive of North Lanarkshire Council

We know that Local Authorities are at the forefront of raising expectations for the best possible outcomes for young people with a learning disability and autism as they transition from education to adulthood.

DFN Project SEARCH offers SEND and Additional Needs teams in each Local Authority the best evidence-based programme to help young people with a learning disability and autism transition from education to employment.

By partnering with DFN Project SEARCH, local authority managers and commissioners in the SEND team will also support adult social care departments and support public health initiatives in the longer-term too.

“We aim to give all our students the best possible chance to achieve their goals, DFN Project SEARCH Supported Internships are a proven way to do this.”

Tam Breeze
Director of Learner Experience and Quality, Kendal College

Colleges and Schools provide young people a great education, now help set them up for life!

By investing in DFN Project SEARCH, Further Education providers become the education lead on this employment training programme with a track record of providing better job outcomes for students.

There are many benefits of the DFN Project SEARCH programme, including:

– Full access to dedicated portal of teaching and learning resources developed by Project SEARCH experts.
– Full access to world’s largest vocational profiling tool for people with SEND which allows you to track and measure progress against learner skill acquisition.
– Robust and clearly evidenced data demonstrating in year Intent, Implementation and Impact relating to learner progress and aspirational destinations.
– Creative and innovative opportunities to track progress against EHCP or other educational targets.

Through working with DFN Project Search, Blackpool Council has been instrumental in providing enhanced employment opportunities for people with autism and learning difficulties.

Cllr Simon Blackburn
Leader of Blackpool Council

Employing people with special educational needs and disabilities is not just a matter of doing an honourable thing. With many sectors struggling with a skills gap, it makes simple business sense to explore this ocean of untapped potential.

Our business partners often tell us that working with us can dramatically improve performance and retention, whilst also improving skill level across their business. Further benefits include enhanced local, national and international recognition through partnering with this unique programme.

DFN Project SEARCH supply businesses with a tutor, a job coach and ongoing site support at no cost to the business.

Each student is trained and job ready when they graduate from the programme. They are an available workforce should the business have vacancies, which support workforce diversity targets and helps transform business culture. However, their new skills also make them ready for external employment, which ultimately boosts community economies.

By opening the workforce to an untapped talent pool of able and willing workers, DFN Project SEARCH meets specific staffing shortages with tailor-made candidates for hard-to-fill jobs and makes a positive difference to the lives of young people with a learning disability and their families.

In addition, as a microcosm of the working world, you can train the young people in almost every occupation. So if you don’t have the right vacancies for the interns, they will be able to go into the jobs market with great skills learned in a prestigious NHS hospital.

Impact & Research

With the largest data set in the UK, our evidence-based model challenges misconceptions and changes the way society views and enables young adults with a learning disability and autism to ensure that they reach their true and full potential.

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Where We Are