What We Do

The Project SEARCH Transition-to-Work Programme is a unique, business-led, one-year employment preparation programme that takes place entirely at the workplace. Total workplace immersion facilitates a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and hands-on training through worksite rotations. The programme culminates in individualised job development.

Transition to Work

Transition-to-Work Programme

The goal for each programme participant is competitive employment. To reach that goal, the programme provides real-life work experience combined with training in employability and independent-living skills to help young people with learning disabilities and autism spectrum conditions make successful transitions to productive adult life. The Project SEARCH model involves an extensive period of skills training and career exploration, innovative adaptations, long-term job coaching, and continuous feedback from instructors, job coaches and employers. As a result, at the completion of the training programme, students with significant learning disabilities are employed in non-traditional, complex and rewarding jobs. In addition, the presence of a Project SEARCH programme can bring about long-term changes in business culture that have far-reaching positive effects on attitudes about recruiting people with disabilities and the range of jobs in which they can be successful.


Project SEARCH serves young people with significant learning disabilities. Typically, these are school or college students  who are eligible for an employability pro on an Individual Education Programme (IEP) and in their last year of education. The programme can also be adapted to serve young adults who are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET). The most important criterion for acceptance into Project SEARCH is a desire to achieve full time, paid employment.

Programme Overview

Programme participants (interns) attend the programme for a full academic year on site at the host business. The host business provides access to an on-site training room that can accommodate 8 to 12 interns. The site is staffed by a qualified instructor and one to two job coaches to meet the educational and training needs of the interns (typically a 1 to 4 ratio).

  • Once the programme year begins, the first few weeks are focused on intern induction, hands-on skill assessment, and familiarisation with the business environment. Interns develop a career plan, which guides the internship selection process and individualised job search.
  • Employment Skills Curriculum: Throughout the programme year, the interns work on employability and functional skills for approximately one hour of their day. Training room activities are designed around these focus areas: Team Building, Workplace Safety, Technology, Maintaining Employment, Self-Advocacy, Financial Literacy, Health and Wellness, and Preparing for Employment.
  • Internships: Through a series of three targeted internships the interns acquire competitive, marketable and transferable skills to enable them to apply for a related post. Interns also build communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills  which are important to their overall development as a young worker. These are unpaid work experiences-analogous to the clinical rotations that are part of every medical school or business internship programme. Potential internship sites are identified through a continuous collaborative process involving the instructor, job coaches, and business liaison. These internship rotations begin a few weeks after the start of the programme. Interns are expected to interact with their supervisors via telephone and written communications to arrange a job interview to secure each rotation. A department mentor is identified at each site. The mentor interacts with the instructor, job coaches and the intern as a consistent source of guidance and feedback. Interns spend approximately five hours each day in their individual internships, which includes a thirty minute lunch. Working from a task list, they acquire the core skills necessary to be recruited into an entry-level post at the host business site or in the community.  Job coaches and department staff collaborate to provide support for interns. The Project SEARCH staff deliver the training and work with the host business staff to develop reasonable adjustments and standard work procedures. Once the interns master the core skills, additional skills are added to improve each person’s  job marketability.

Job Development and Community Connections

During the last few months of the programme the emphasis is on refining skills, achieving each person’s career goal, and carrying out individualised job development. The Job Developer and/or Follow On or In Work Job coach becomes an even more important part of the team as the job search process begins. Job development is based on the intern’s experiences, strengths, interests, and skills. Making links to appropriate services in the community are critical at this stage, as interns prepare to graduate from the programme, to ensure a successful transition to employment and adult life. Services are identified in the community that provide assistance with necessary adaptations required to perform a specific job.  Upon satisfactory completion of the programme (95% or better attendance, good attitude, successful skill acquisition at each job site) interns receive a Career Portfolio containing a CV, letters of recommendation, a competency profile, and any awards or special recognition received while in the programme. In Europe there are often no services identified for job development and in work support prior to the introduction of a Project SEARCH programme. It is DFN/Project SEARCH’s intention to be part of a UK wide effort to make full time paid jobs more sustainable for people with learning disabilities and autism spectrum conditions by working with the Departments of Work and Pensions, Health and Education as well as helping each community partnership figure out how to provide job development and in work support in their own locality. In countries outside the UK we will support local efforts to develop sustainability.

Intern Selection

Interns are typically referred to the programme through their schools or colleges, a family member, or Social Worker and apply in the winter and spring in the year prior to entering the programme. A team representative of all the partners: Project SEARCH instructor, host business liaison, Special Educational Needs commissioning team, supported employment provider staff, and other appropriate personnel carry out the selection process. The process includes tours, student interviews, hands-on assessments at the host business, and scoring on a rubric related to entrance considerations.