Supporting individuals with learning difficulties


22 / 10 / 2010

The organisation

Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust provides a full range of acute and general hospital services to over 460,000 people in Plymouth, east Cornwall and south west Devon. The trust is one of the largest acute healthcare providers in the country, with an annual budget of £218 million, over 1,000 beds for inpatients and day case patients and over 6390 staff. Plymouth Hospitals is also a teaching trust in partnership with the Peninsula Medical School.

What we did and why

In July 2009 Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust was approached by the local development manager from PLUSS  (PLUSS is a social enterprise that supports over 2,500 people with a disability each year to achieve work and a career)  advising of a national programme called project ‘Search’ that had been implemented in the USA and in areas of the UK. 

About project ‘Search’

Project Search started fourteen years ago.  It involves:
• Cincinnati Children’s Hospital
• Great Oaks Institute of Technology and Career Development
• Hamilton County Board of Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities

The three organisations work together and have achieved success at meeting employer needs while securing long-term employment for people with disabilities.  The project has resulted in over seventy individuals with disabilities securing permanent employment.  

A similar project has been set up in Plymouth between the local college and Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust. The ‘Plymouth Project Search’ programme is a nine month long college-to-work internship for students with learning disabilities.  It takes place entirely within the trust, which facilitates a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and on-the-job training and support. 

The goal for each student is competitive employment somewhere in the community using the skills they have acquired at the trust.  The internship provides real-life work experience combined with training in employability and independent living skills to help youth with disabilities make successful transitions from school to productive adult life. 

How we did it

The trust recognised there would be many benefits by hosting the project, including:
• enhanced community image
• reduced recruitment costs
• improved retention rates in high turnover positions
• workforce diversity
• national recognition for an innovative and progressive approach.

The internships are unpaid student internships. Students spend the first month completing orientation to hospital protocol, culture and facilities.  Worksite rotations begin in the second month, usually totalling three to four sites per student by the end of the school year.  Through the worksite rotations, students build communication and problem-solving skills, as well as job-specific skills.

The student and teacher work together to choose worksites based on that student’s previous work experience, interests, and skills assessment.  For each worksite rotation students will prepare a CV, interview with the department manager, and arrange scheduling. 

Time spent on each work experience is flexible.  Students may spend several weeks to several months at each worksite depending on factors, such as, the complexity of the job, tasks to be learned, and benefits to the student.  Job coaches and department staff collaborate to provide support for students.  Job coaches may be phased out when a student gains independence on certain tasks.  Students may also participate in more than one work experience at a time, depending on the scheduling needs of the employer and the student.  At the end of the worksite rotation, students will have an exit interview.  The department can choose to hire any well-suited student at any time in the process. This is in line with the trust’s recruitment guidelines

Supported employment specialists are made available on site to conduct job analyses and provide ongoing training and support to employees with disabilities.  These services are supplied by PLUSS and are provided at no cost to the trust

Results and next steps 

The project has helped participants to;
• gain a greater understanding of the world of work and how the operates
• learn what an employer will expect of an employee
• learn new skills and identify existing skills and how to apply them to the work place
• decide what kind of work they might choose when they leave school - or what you don't want to do
• develop self confidence and self awareness.

The benefits for the trust have included:
• Gaining an intelligent, motivated, cost-effective labour resource with valuable skills, knowledge and fresh ideas.
• Projects which otherwise would not be done due to a shortage of resources, can be moved forward.
• Offered solution to short term staff shortages.
• Developed recruitment channels through links with schools and colleges.
• Helped to create a positive image of the organisation within the community.
• Helped  to understand changes in the education system and feedback into the development of  learning and development.

Further information and contact details

Jayne Middleman, HR Officer
(Equality & Diversity/Business Liason for Project Search)
tel: 01752 437610  email:

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