By Toby Holloway
Cardiff University have given 12 Cardiff and Vale College (CAVC) students internships at the university as part of a scheme that aims to help young people with disabilities become educated and find work.
The initiative is part of American programme Project SEARCH, which started in the USA 20 years ago, and has been adopted by Cardiff University this year; one of only of only three UK universities to do so.
The CAVC students all suffer from conditions such as autism and learning difficulties, however Project SEARCH, which is also supported by the Welsh Lottery Fund and Engage to Change, offers the opportunity for students such as these to develop a number of employment skills.
Project SEARCH was founded by director Erin Riehle, beginning life at Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital Medical Centre and spreading to countries including Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and now, Wales.
Speaking about Cardiff University’s new involvement with the scheme, Erin Riehle said: “I am really excited to be partnering with Cardiff University for the first Project SEARCH programme in Wales.
“The partnership with the University, Learning Disability Wales, Elite SEA and Cardiff and Vale College is a strong one and will ensure the students are trained in the valuable work skills they need to get great jobs when they finish the course.”
The CAVC students, all of whom have entered their final year of full-time education, will have the opportunity to experience a range of different workplace environments, including laboratories, office or retail spaces.
Following the launch of the Project SEARCH scheme at Cardiff University, Professor Elizabeth Treasure, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University, said: “Working closely with Cardiff and Vale College, ELITE SEA and Learning Disability Wales, we jumped at the chance to be the first employer in Wales to offer internships as part of this excellent project.
“The University will benefit from their skills and the young people themselves will gain valuable experience that will put them in a strong position when they leave college and look for employment.”
CAVC student Hollie Newbury, 21, who is completing an internship in Cardiff University’s Human Resources depratment, said: “I didn’t know what it would be like but I’ve been filing and I’m enjoying it.
“The people are all really nice and welcoming and I can get on with it at my own pace.
“I’m getting good experience and I want to get a job at the end of it.”
Kay Martin, Deputy Principal of Cardiff and Vale College, said: “Project SEARCH is a unique and ground-breaking project for young people with learning disabilities, and we’re delighted to be the first and only college in Wales to be offering such a meaningful opportunity that will support our learners’ progression into employment.”
Another of the CAVC students, Shane Halton,18, is an intern in the School of Chemistry, said: “Getting a job at the end of it is my aim and getting experience towards getting a job.
“I’m learning new things. When I first started I was doing spreadsheets for risk assessments and user manuals.”
He added: “I’ve since been going around the labs making sure everything is safe and people are using the right equipment, and I’ve been removing chemicals that people have finished using.
“I’ve most enjoyed going to the labs because I like being on my feet and getting to know all the different chemicals.”
Project SEARCH will run for 10 weeks at Cardiff University.