DFN Project SEARCH programme

DFN Project SEARCH Recognises Young People on NHS Frontline

In the most challenging of circumstances, frontline services such as hospitals and supermarkets have been recruiting people to support them in the fight against the coronavirus.

Amongst those new paid employees have been 35 young people who applied for jobs and were successful because of the valuable skills they had developed whilst on the DFN Project SEARCH programme.

The aim of DFN Project SEARCH is to foster and develop the skills of students with learning disabilities and autism and provide them with a pathway to integrated competitive employment.

Based in a host business, interns receive hands on experience in a real work setting. They obtain 800 hours of skills acquisition over an academic year across three job rotations with continual training and feedback.

Journey to the Frontline

“DFN Project SEARCH works in partnership with 40 hospitals in the UK who embrace the prestigious role of being our host employer as part of their commitment to the learning disability employment pledge,” says Claire Cookson, CEO of DFN Project SEARCH.

“Many of our interns are in a unique position and have been totally immersed in the hospital environment and trained in vital roles such as portering, facilities management, data collection and lab work”

Claire Cookson, DFN Project SEARCH

“To date, 32 of our talented interns have applied for and secured jobs in six hospitals in England, five in Scotland and one in Wales,” says Claire. “They have moved into key roles in portering, waste management, catering, facilities management, domestic services, laundry and in the laboratory.”

In addition to the 32 NHS employed interns, a further three interns have been offered roles in supermarkets and food service to meet the growing need for key workers in these areas too. 

Bobby Price

Emma Price, a mother who was recently interviewed about her son Bobby’s role with a London NHS hospital said: “My son is such an inspiration to me, he’s so motivated to get up every day and he’s always got such a positive mind-set.

Bobby Price
IMAGE: Bobby Price

“He doesn’t even like having to take a day off because he loves his job so much.”

“He always says to me ‘I work for the NHS and the NHS needs me‘, and I just that find it so inspiring.”

“It just makes me so proud to see Bobby in his scrubs working at the hospital and doing his part for the NHS. Young people like him are making such an amazing impact”

Emma Price

Emma discussed her son’s journey into employment and highlighted how the support he received along the way has been truly transformational.

She added, “I’m so proud of him because Bobby’s journey hasn’t been the easiest, but Bobby has always had a clear idea of what he wanted, and that was to get a job and go to work.”

“Without DFN Project SEARCH and the support he got along the way, he wouldn’t be where he is today. Because all he’s ever wanted is to work for the NHS, and now it’s all come true for him.”


Another key worker that was hired through the DFN Project SEARCH programme is Ekene, a laundry technician employed by medical device supplier Arjo.

During his hospital rotations, Ekene demonstrated an excellent ability to follow instructions and now works 25 hours a week at Charing Cross Hospital in London.

Camila Majica-Braesyde, Work Experience Project Manager and Project SEARCH Business liaison at the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said, “Ekene continually delivers a high, quality standard of work and continues to carry out this great work through the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Since becoming a laundry technician, Ekene has not only developed his practical skills, but his social skills have blossomed.

He has grown in confidence to such a degree that he was one of the first people to meet Minister Michelle Donelan during her visit to the Charing Cross Hospital programme earlier this year, and has since continued to challenge stereotypes around employing people with disabilities by providing an outstanding service and supporting NHS workers on the frontline.

Support from dedicated skilled workers are needed now more than ever.

“Young people with learning disabilities and autism are not only skilled workers, they are key workers, and a talent pool that more businesses could be benefiting from,” concludes Claire.

About DFN Project SEARCH

Project SEARCH was established at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 1996 to help young people with learning disabilities get a job. Today the US programme is the biggest of its kind in the world.

DFN Project SEARCH programmes throughout the country are creating life changing opportunities, offering young people a one-year transition to work programme in their final year of school or college to enable inclusion and empowerment.

Evidenced-based and outcome driven, the programme is a proven way of helping people with learning disabilities get long term careers as well as helping businesses get a more inclusive workforce. Today it is running over 60 UK schemes and has supported more than 1000 young people into work.

Project SEARCH now has a target of getting 20,000 young people into work during the next decade, which will be transformative for them, their families, communities and business.

For more information please visit dfnprojectsearch.org.

For an accompanying read, please visit DFN Project SEARCH Reveals Interns’ Frontline Impact During Lockdown.

FEATURED IMAGE: Ekene meeting Michelle Donelan MP during her visit to the Charing Cross Hospital programme

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