Project SEARCH - Asheville

Transition to Work Program

To reach the goal of competitive employment for each participant, Project SEARCH provides real-life work experience combined with employability and independent living skills training to help young people with I/DD make successful transitions to 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 teachers, skills trainers, and employers. As a result, at the completion of the training program, our participants are employed in non-traditional, complex, and rewarding jobs. In addition, a Project SEARCH program can bring about long-term changes in business culture that have far-reaching positive effects on attitudes about hiring people with disabilities and the range of jobs in which they can be successful.

Eligibility

Project SEARCH serves young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The most important criterion for acceptance into Project SEARCH is a desire to achieve competitive employment. Interns must also be willing to be on-boarded with Mission Health, be eligible for NC Vocational Rehabilitation services, not be enrolled in a high school, and have reliable daily transportation to the program.

Program Overview

Program participants (interns) attend the program for a full school year in the host business at Mission Health. The host business provides access to an on-site training room that can accommodate up to 12 interns. The site is staffed by an instructor and one skills trainer to meet the educational and training needs of the interns.

Once the program year begins, the first few weeks are focused on intern orientation, hands-on skill assessment, and familiarization with the business environment. Interns develop a career plan, which guides the internship selection process and individualized job search.

Employment Skills Curriculum: Interns work on employability and functional skills for approximately two hours 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 employment preparation.

Internships: Through a series of three targeted internships the interns acquire competitive, marketable, and transferrable skills to enable them to apply for a related position. Interns also build communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills which is 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 program. Potential internship sites are identified through a continuous collaborative process involving the instructor, skills trainer, and business liaison. These internship rotations begin a few weeks after the start of the program. Interns are required 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, skills trainers, and the intern as a consistent source of guidance and feedback. Interns spend approximately five hours each day at the internships, which includes a thirty-minute lunch. Working from a task list, they acquire the core skills necessary to be hired in an entry-level position at the host business site or in the community. Skills trainers and department staff collaborate to provide support for interns. The Project SEARCH staff delivers the training and develops job accommodations and standard work procedures. Once the interns master the core skills, additional skills are layered on to improve their marketability.

Job Development and Community Connections

During the last few months of the program the emphasis is on refining skills, achieving the career goal, and carrying out individualized job development. Job development is based on the intern’s experiences, strengths, interests, and skills. Linkages to appropriate services in the community are critical at this stage, as interns prepare to graduate from the program, to ensure a successful transition to employment and adult life. Services are identified in the community to assist with necessary adaptations required to perform a specific job. Job coaching and long-term follow along are arranged by The Arc of North Carolina.

Mission Health Project SEARCH has achieved an impressive 93% employment rate for graduates, contributing over 300 hours a week into the workforce of the Asheville metro area.