Young adults and teenagers with special needs face unique challenges. Once they complete high school requirements, it’s important that they be equipped with skills that will help them get a job. Training students for jobs and for independent living should be started right from high school, and should help them sharpen their professional skills and find jobs. This is where internship programs can help. Such programs can help young people with special needs to learn the skills they need for the workplace and to manage in a real job scenario. In Illinois, two west suburban and two state agencies are partnering with a major employer to pilot “Project Search” a novel one-year internship program for young adults with special needs. High schools have to provide job training and independent living for students, ages 18 to 22, who have completed high school requirements.
Project Search – An Innovative Program
A recent report carried the details of this groundbreaking project. Project Search was launched at a Cincinnati hospital in 1996 and is designed to improve the career opportunities of high students with disabilities. The amount of time and effort invested in each intern is much more that in similar job placement programs for transitional students. This program is of immense value to these students who are not eligible for transitional services when they turn 22.
Twelve students are selected and carefully evaluated for interests and abilities. In the last year before they turn 23, they are put to work as fulltime, unpaid interns at the job site in a business/hospital setting in their local community. In addition to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the program is also available at Fifth Third Bank and Xavier University.
Interns with disorders such as Down syndrome, Asperger syndrome or traumatic brain injury are given with training to increase their professional skills. The major areas in which they get training and work experience include the following:
- Document Control clerk: Log incoming documents into computer, sort by type, deliver to appropriate department
- File clerk: File loan documents by 12-digit number; sort and file collateral documents alphabetically
- Case Preparation: Document scanning, draft preparation, filing
- Call Center: Authorizations, verification of accounts and data entry
- Consumer Loss Mitigation: Create spreadsheet, enter data
- Administrative Assistant: file, enter data, scan, fax and telephone skills
Other areas of work include Pharmacy, Cafeteria (stocking), Clinical sterilization, Landscaping, Child Care, Technology Support and Food Service.
Similar internship programs have been initiated in other states as well. They are usually carried out in firms with 200 employees or more such as banking, restaurants, government, manufacturing and retail. Interns are given jobs such as data collection, document scanning, scanning of archival materials, and so on.
One of the aims of Project Search is to educate employers about the potential of this underutilized workforce while meeting their needs for trained professionals. It also expects healthcare executives to take the lead in their organizations to increase employment opportunities for qualified persons with disabilities and to advocate on behalf of their employment to other organizations in their communities. This would mean that these young professionally qualified adults can get jobs in data entry companies, document conversion companies, and more – a win-win situation for employers and these young job-seekers.