Hats off to Project SEARCH graduates

Congratulations to the 22 young interns aged 16-29 who graduated from the Edinburgh Project SEARCH programme this week.

Project SEARCH graduates
Project SEARCH graduates

Each intern has successfully completed nine months of work experience at the City of Edinburgh Council or NHS Lothian to improve their employability and skills confidence. Project SEARCH is a transition programme for individuals aged 16-29 years who have additional needs when they are beginning new careers. 

Latest figures show that the employment rates in Scotland for those with disabilities is 45.4% compared to 81.2% for those who don’t have a disability. For those with a learning disability the rates are even lower and is estimated to be in the range of 7% to 25%. In the last five years 116 interns have taken part in the project and of those who graduated, 93% have moved into permanent employment.


Cllr Kate Campbell, Housing and Economy Convener, said: “It really important that we mark the achievements of these amazing young people in completing the course. Listening to their experience of the placements, and the impact on their confidence and skills, makes it so clear just how valuable this project is. 


“As one of the city’s biggest employers we have a responsibility to lead the way and support all of our young people in the city into employment.  

“And it’s great to be able to work with partners, NHS Lothian, Edinburgh College and IntoWork to make sure we can offer the placements, support and skills development that will make a real difference to these inspiring young people’s lives.”


Janis Butler, Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development, NHS Lothian, said: “My congratulations go to all the graduates.  NHS Lothian has employed several Project SEARCH graduates following their placements with us and we are delighted with the success of the programme.  The placements allow young people to learn valuable new skills, demonstrate their potential and gain experience to help them pursue their career goals. The programme also provides a valuable opportunity for our staff to gain experience as mentors.”   


Edinburgh College Vice Principal for Education and Skills, Jonny Pearson said: “Congratulations to the 22 interns who are graduating from the Edinburgh Project SEARCH programme. This is a fantastic achievement that each graduate should be incredibly proud of.


“As a college, we are delighted to continue to be a partner in this wonderful programme, which changes the lives of people by preparing them for the world of work by placing them in real-life employment situations supported with tutoring and job coaching.  We wish everyone graduating this year the best of luck for their future.”


Into Work has been a delivery partner with Edinburgh Project SEARCH for five years. Rebecca Allen, Senior Manager, said “It is a fantastic opportunity to work alongside the interns on their Edinburgh Project SEARCH journey.  We provide job coaches to help and support the interns develop their confidence and abilities to complete their work placements and go on to find and sustain real jobs at the end of the programme. 


“This graduation is a real celebration of the determination and perseverance of young people doing their very best to overcome all kind of barriers and challenges to find and sustain employment and get a great start to their working careers.”                                                                                    


Dione Greenhill

Dione Greenhill, age 20, from Gilmerton is one of the 22 new graduates from Edinburgh Project SEARCH. Dione has ADHD and spent time in care growing up. She said: “I didn’t think the project was for me. I’ve never had a job before and I didn’t think I’d get one. When my manager told me I got the job I was so happy, everyone has been really supportive.  If it wasn’t for Edinburgh Project SEARCH I wouldn’t have got the job.”


Discussing the benefits of the project Dione explains that the project has also helped her make friends, gain in confidence and become more financially independent.


Dione, who now lives with her foster parents and works in catering at the kitchen in Western General, said: “I really like my job, I like making healthy food for the patients to help them get better. "


Yiorgos Perris, 23, from South Queensferry

Yiorgos Perris, 23 from South Queensferry, graduated from Edinburgh Project SEARCH in 2018 and secured employment with Amey Plc.  Yiorgos has autism and has struggled with communication skills all his life.  Yiorgos completed three 10-week internships with the City of Edinburgh Council.  He worked in the Procurement team, and did so well he extended this role for his second placement before moving on to the licencing department. 


Yiorgos was an extremely popular and capable member of the team and learned valuable skills in the roles.  He not only learned how to do the jobs independently but also how to be an employee, preparing him for meaningful, paid employment.


While on the programme, Yiorgos took part in Duo Day and met Jamie Hepburn, MSP and First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.  Since completing the programme, Yiorgos has been very active in campaigning on behalf of the programme, highlighting the need for services such as Edinburgh Project SEARCH in reducing the disability employment gap.  He has continued communication with Mr Hepburn and had a meeting with MP Christine Jardine to highlight the importance of programmes like Edinburgh Project SEARCH. Yiorgos says: “I’m not ashamed of being autistic and I don’t think people should be ashamed of their disabilities.”


Discussing his job with Amey Plc, Yiorgos said: “The people are really nice to me and we have good banter. They don’t treat me differently, just like any other another colleague.”


Yiorgos has been invited back to Edinburgh Project SEARCH to host the 2019 graduation celebrations and is looking forward to MCing the event and seeing his friends at Edinburgh Project SEARCH achieve their goals.


“I was struggling to find a job because I didn’t know how to do things like create a CV and didn’t think I had enough to say. Edinburgh Project SEARCH helped me write to do this and I gained skills and confidence with them. The programme changed my life, I wouldn’t be where I am without it. Having a job makes me feel grown up and independent. I love payday, I can save up and buy what I want. I bought Marvel merchandise with my first pay.”


Ryan Fullerton

Ryan left school in 2010 with very few qualifications due to anxiety issues.  He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do but struggled to find work or college courses that didn’t require qualifications.  He found part-time work with his uncle as a taxi escort but knew he wanted the chance to do more.  Ryan heard about Edinburgh Project SEARCH and was successful in getting a place in August 2018. 


He was still unsure of what area of work he wanted to go into, but knew he wanted to work on increasing his confidence, managing his anxiety and increasing his customer service skills. His first internship involved him working as a Catering Assistant at Arthur’s Community Café on Nicholson Street, where he was able to develop his interaction with customers with the support of the department. Ryan then went on to complete an internship at Muirhouse Library.


With his confidence growing, he participated in the Book Bug sessions for toddlers and their parents, and was able to add value to the sessions by using his guitar skills to provide music.


Ryan’s final internship has been at the Assembly Rooms on George Street, working as an Operational Assistant. Ryan has excelled in this role and gets on great with his colleagues, so much so that the Assembly Rooms are in the process of organising for Ryan to be kept on in a paid, temporary capacity over the summer.


Ryan said: "I applied for Edinburgh Project SEARCH and got accepted but I wasn’t excited about it at first.  I felt like I had to do it because it was the only thing I could do, but I was still feeling really negative.  But after a few weeks it got really good.  I didn’t think I would like the being in a classroom but it’s been my favourite part.  I’ve met like-minded people and gained skills, before Edinburgh Project SEARCH I didn’t know how to handle an interview.  I would just answer really fast and say anything, I don’t know why I did that but now I know how to go into an interview.  I also like the social side, making friends and going out together.  You are allowed to say what things you want to do, so I said bowling for our second socials."


Keith Preston, 22, Bonnyrigg

Keith Preston, age 22, from Bonnyrigg, has dyslexia, dyspraxia and Phonological disorder, a condition that made it difficult for him to speak. Keith is hearing but his parents and sister are all profoundly deaf.  His disabilities and background made school very difficult for him, he said: “I was very shy at school, I was diagnosed when I was five and I struggled to accept it for a while and to know that I was still a normal person.


“I didn’t really have any friends because I struggled to communicate with people.  I didn’t know what to do after school so I went to college but dropped out during my second year because I was really struggling with anxiety and didn’t feel like I could learn properly.


“Keith had completed various work experience placements, but had struggled to find employment, prior to starting Edinburgh Project SEARCH. I was applying for jobs but didn’t get any offers, I felt really trapped, like I wasn’t getting anywhere. 


“Then I got Edinburgh Project SEARCH, I wasn’t sure about it, I thought it might be a waste of time.  At the time I had really low self-confidence and I was really negative about myself, I didn’t think I would be good enough to do Edinburgh Project SEARCH.  But after a few weeks I realised that this was a place that actually helped.  The best bit was that it allowed me to try new things.”


For his first placement, Keith worked with the Community Stores team at the City of Edinburgh Council where he helped maintain equipment provided to people to enable them to live independently in their own homes.  While discussing the job, Keith explained that dyspraxia can make it hard to put things together but he found he had "a real knack for it, it was a real door opener for me.  I got new opportunities that I wouldn’t have tried before, because I wouldn’t think I could do it. I now know I want to work in warehouses, which I didn’t think I could do."


He went on to work with the Facilities Management Team at Waverley Court and as a Verger at St. John’s Church where he has continued to learn and develop new skills.  Keith has worked very well both as part of a team, and independently, and is currently job searching for practical and warehouse roles, with the support of Edinburgh Project SEARCH staff.


Discussing how he feels about graduation, Keith said: “I’m a bit sad to be graduating because it means it will be over.  I will miss the people but I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.”


Further information


Project SEARCH was developed in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 1996.  There are now over 500 sites worldwide. 


The DFN Foundation purchased the franchise rights to deliver Project SEARCH in the UK and are working towards increasing the number of programmes across the country from 50 to 200.  Outcome results are very high with 60-100% of young people moving into paid positions.  It is a partnership between a host employer (The City of Edinburgh Council and NHS Lothian), an educational provider (Edinburgh College) and a supported employment specialist (IntoWork).



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