Podcast Episode 39. Work is central to most of our lives. It not only provides a purpose to our day but also makes us feel an integral part of the society we live in. In this week’s podcast we hear about the Project Search program, being run at the Marriott Hotel in Heathrow UK, which provides an innovative approach to help young people with additional needs find paid employment. The people responsible for running the program are Maxine Simpson, course tutor, Sue Stock, job coach and Saimmah Ali, job developer.

Maxine explains briefly the history of Project Search, which originated in the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 1996. She talks about how the program works and how the interns take part in lessons at the beginning of the workday on building teamwork and personal skills. This is then followed by their placement within a department at the hotel. At the end of the day, there is a debrief where interns have the chance to talk about their day and review any problems or issues they experienced.

Sue talks about how, along with Maxine and Sam, she is involved in the ongoing assessment of the intern’s performance. As the job coach, she provides feedback to help them to think about what their next steps should be and what type of job roles they might want to pursue. Sue explains how the interns work on rotation in different departments, which enables them to learn new skills, build a CV and identify what type of roles they like most.

Sam is a job developer, a role that involves networking with potential employers, based on what the interns have identified as industries they would like to potentially work in. Sam explains some of the challenges with this role in changing employer perceptions. She explains it takes time to break down the “fear factor” that a lot of employers have. One way to overcome this is with an unpaid trial to show an employer the abilities of a young person, instead of always having a formal interview process, which some young people struggle with.

Maxine, Sue and Sam discuss the types of challenges that young people face at the beginning of the program, transitioning from education to employment. It’s usually not the work skills that the young people struggle with, but rather their personal skills and learning how to behave maturely in the workplace. Maxine talks about the positive impact Project Search has had within the Marriott, where all staff have benefitted so much that Project Search programs are set to be rolled out across other Marriot hotels.

The success of Project Search is really down to a work based integrated supportive approach, which helps ensure that by the time a young person completes the program, they not only have a better idea about what they want to do, but they also have links with prospective employers. Project Search is providing a template for how to help young people with additional needs find paid employment that is right for them.