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 240 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 was a new initiative in Minnesota in 2009. The program model takes place in a business setting where total immersion facilitates the teaching and learning process through continuous feedback and application of new skills. Upon successful completion of the Project SEARCH application and interview process, selected students become Project SEARCH interns. Student interns are provided work opportunities and practical learning experiences to enhance their academic preparation and expose them to the world of work.
Project SEARCH is a collaborative partnership that requires at a minimum five (5) core partners: a business, Local Education agencies, Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS) and/or State Services for the Blind (SSB), County Developmental Disabilities Divisions and a follow-along provider. Once a host business is identified, it takes between eight and twelve months to fully plan and implement a successful Project SEARCH program site. Project SEARCH is a true partnership between many state and local agencies and the youth it serves.
On July 14, 2015 at the Project SEARCH International Conference, three of Minnesota's four sites from the 2013-2014 classes received employment outcome awards. Medtronic was one of 10 sites internationally who had employment outcomes between 90-99%; Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota was one of 58 sites in the 80-89% range; Avera was one of 45 sites at the 60-69% level. Fairview Lakes just started their program in January, 2013 and Hennepin County Medical Center started in September, 2014. This is quite an accomplishment for our Minnesota sites and a great example of the truly collaborative work that is happening between all of our agencies at both the state and local level, and local businesses. Project SEARCH Graduates are becoming a part of Minnesota's Workforce.