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Photo of 2019 Project SEARCH interns

About Project SEARCH

Project SEARCH is a one year programme that provides young people with a disability the skills they need to enter the workforce with confidence.


Designed to break down barriers to employment, the programme sees each intern work across three 10-week placements to explore a variety of career paths. Interns are provided practical hands-on training, education, and career development as well as comprehensive support throughout the programme.

Who is Project SEARCH for? 

Project SEARCH is for young people with learning disabilities aged between 18 - 21, who are in their last year of secondary school.


Where did Project SEARCH begin?

Project SEARCH was developed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, a research environment that fosters visionary thinking and innovation. It all began in 1996, when Erin Riehle was Director of Cincinnati Children’s Emergency Department.

Erin felt that because many patients had learning disabilities, it made sense that they should commit to recruiting people from this group. She wondered if it would be possible to train people with learning disabilities to fill some of the high-turnover, entry-level posts in her department, which involved complex and systematic tasks such as stocking supply cabinets.


As a starting point, Erin presented her ideas to Susie Rutkowski, then the special education director at Great Oaks, a vocational training college. Erin and Susie formed a partnership that was instantaneous, and together they launched Project SEARCH.


Project SEARCH is now a world wide programme with over 600 sites running the programme each year. 

Project SEARCH 101 Video

Watch this 20 minute introductory video explaining the basic principles of the Project SEARCH Model.  

Te Whatu Ora Waitaha Project SEARCH Video

Hayley Butler was an intern in the first year of Project SEARCH in NZ. Here is her story.

Project SEARCH New Zealand 

Currently Project SEARCH is only operating in Canterbury. The Host Business is Te Whatu Ora, and we are physically based primarily at Burwood Hospital. CCS Disability Action is the vocational provider in Canterbury, and Riccarton High School is the managing school.

The interns begin their day learning employability skills in a training room at Burwood Hospital and then move to their work rotation within the hospital site. At the end of the day the interns return to the training room to reflect on their day, discuss challenges and evaluate progress.


Possible Internships at Burwood Hospital can include:

  1. Kitchen, e.g. industrial dishwasher cleaning, stock management

  2. Wellfood Cafe, e.g. serving customers, maintaining cafe cleanliness, dish washing

  3. Environmental Services, e.g. hospital grade cleaning

  4. Orderlies, e.g. waste collection, mail room, patient transport

  5. Physiotherapy Department, e.g. assisting in knee rehabilitation and pool classes, administrative work

  6. Spinal Unit, e.g. stocking linen, bed making, stock supplies

  7. Maintenance Department, e.g. grounds and trade assistant work

  8. Administration, e.g. filing, photocopying, binding

  9. Occupational Therapy, e.g. wheelchair and loan equipment maintenance, administration

  10. Child Development Service, e.g. administration, cleaning equipment, car grooming

  11. Clinical Records, e.g. filing​

  12. Catering Assistant, e.g. serving hot drinks in a ward, assisting in the kitchen, dish washing


Interns work with a team that includes their family, their Project SEARCH skills trainer and tutor, job coach/developer and other partners to create an employment goal and support the student during this important transition from school to work.


The goal of Project SEARCH is competitive employment for each intern utilising the skills they learned during the programme.

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