What is Project SEARCH?

In 1996 the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) adopted a major diversity initiative to "lead their communities in increasing employment opportunities for persons with disabilities and advocate on behalf of their employment to other organizations."

As a starting point, Erin Riehle, Director of Cincinnati Children's Emergency Department, presented her ideas to Susie Rutkowski, special education director at Great Oaks Career Campuses. A partnership was instantaneously formed and Project SEARCH (www.projectsearch.us) was launched.

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.

Project SEARCH, starting as a single program site in the United States at Cincinnati Children's, is now an internationally recognized employer driven model with over 260 sites that include Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland and Australia. Project SEARCH's primary objective is to secure competitive employment for people with disabilities.

Project SEARCH Program Description

Project SEARCH is a business led collaboration that enables young adults with disabilities to gain and maintain employment through training and career exploration.

A 9-12 month program, Project SEARCH provides total immersion in a large community business. Students with disabilities are offered a workforce alternative for their last year of high school.

The Project SEARCH partnership includes a local host business, a school, VRS, a Community Service Provider and a disability services agency. The business provides an on-site training classroom, business liaison and rotational internships for on the job training. The school provides an instructor and job skills trainer(s).

Each day, students report to the host business, learn employability skills in the classroom and job skills through their internships (usually 3-4 internships during the year). Students are encouraged to use public transportation when available, just as they would when employed after high school.

Students and their teams meet monthly for progress reports and to continually refine their career goals and determine concrete next steps. Managers from the host business work with the teacher and skills trainers to support the students every step of the way.

The ultimate goal upon program completion being the students' competitive placements at the host business or in the community, based on the skills and experience learned in their Project SEARCH experiences.

Program Description:

  • One Academic Year
  • Up to ten students in one program
  • Three different 10-week unpaid internships
  • Open to all students in Minnesota with disabilities who meet the eligibility requirements

Program Advantages:

  • Gain employability and specific transferable work skills
  • Customized job search assistance for each intern upon completion

Basic Eligibility Requirements:

  • Students on an IEP
  • Ages 18-21, going into last year of transition programming
  • Demonstrates work place communication skills appropriate for a business environment
  • Ability to take directions and change behaviors
  • Applied/eligible for Vocational Rehabilitation Services and County Developmental Disabilities Services
  • Students can apply to any Project SEARCH site, regardless of what their home district is