American Family Children's Hospital

Project SEARCH Offers Work Experience to People with Disabilities

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Madison, Wisconsin - UW Hospital and Clinics is a proud participant in Project SEARCH, a training program for high school students with disabilities that offers real-world work experience, long-term coaching and continuous feedback.


The program empowers students with significant intellectual disabilities to gain the skills they need to secure rewarding, long-term employment.


The program at UW Hospital and Clinics, now in its fourth year, has an 80 percent placement rate into paid employment following graduation. At least six program graduates have been hired as paid employees at UW Hospital and Clinics.


Video: Project SEARCH



Created by a nurse at Cincinnati Children's Hospital in 1996, Project SEARCH is dedicated to building a workforce that includes people with disabilities. Today there are more than 140 participating locations in the U.S. and abroad.


In June 2010, Bob Scheuer, director of Materials Management at UW Hospital and Clinics, initiated a Project SEARCH pilot in Central Services, in partnership with the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), Wisconsin Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Dane County Adult Community Services and Transition Coordinator, and Madison Area Rehabilitation Centers, Inc. (MARC).


Scheuer has been a champion of the program over the years and his dedication has led to an expansion into Environmental Services, Culinary Services, Central Services, Pharmacy, Clinical Labs and Employee Health. Guest Services and American Family Children's Hospital recently elected to participate, as well.


Through an extensive selection process, 12 MMSD students are selected as interns each year. Their 12-month internship includes three or four rotations in a variety of departments. Assignments may include the mailroom, linens, floor care, recycling, food preparation, pharmacy sorting or patient greeter, among others.


Each morning before their shifts, students attend an hour-long classroom session focused on interpersonal and professional skills. A MMSD special education teacher and job coordinator, Marcia Ingvalson, leads the program at UW Hospital and Clinics and the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital in Madison. She works closely with a program director and two MARC employment instructors.


"I've seen these students grow so much from their Project SEARCH experience. They are earning positive reviews from their supervisors and their coworkers," says Ingvalson. "Finding permanent employment is important for growth and self-esteem, but also so that they can qualify for critical support services from the county.


Scheuer emphasizes that Project SEARCH does not create jobs for the students. Rather, it fills existing organizational needs.


"Our trainees are held to the same standards as our other employees because the goal is for them to be able compete on a level playing field with other job candidates," he says.


"We have hired two Project SEARCH interns as paid employees and they do everything asked of them and they do it well. They want to give 110 percent constantly. What more could any employer ask? It's been fantastic," says Andy Jenkins, UW Hospital and Clinics Environmental Services supervisor.


"Project SEARCH interns are highly reliable, with low turnover rates, so they enhance productivity and stability," Scheuer says. "And they boost morale. Employees gain a better understanding of people with cognitive challenges and they are inspired by their work ethic and perseverance. It really changes the culture."


He adds, "It's also important that our workforce mirror the diverse public we serve. Project SEARCH is a great example of UW Hospital and Clinics's commitment to our community and to social responsibility. And it's very much in line with the ultimate aim of health care – to help people reach their greatest potential in life."

Date Published: 12/10/2013

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