Project SEARCH Bridges Education and Employment

In my last blog, I shared some of the changes brought about by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014 and its positive impact on students with disabilities. Nebraska VR reaches out to every school to offer and provide pre-employment transition services to students with disabilities. So far this school year, 3,334 students have been provided at least one of five services: counseling on employment opportunities; instruction in self-advocacy; job exploration counseling; work-based learning experience; and/or workplace readiness training. These services are provided in collaboration with the school to support and enhance instruction and activities already occurring in the classroom. We help students make a real world connection between education and employment.

These efforts require the development of relationships with the school and community businesses to ensure students are career ready based on the needs of business. A great example of how this can benefit everyone is Project SEARCH. Project SEARCH is a partnership between Nebraska VR, a business in the community, area school systems, the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Assistive Technology Partnership, and Division of Developmental Disabilities. This one-year school-to-work program is business-led and takes place entirely in the workplace. The experience includes a combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and hands-on training through worksite rotations.

Students with disabilities who have completed their academic requirements may apply if they are in their last year of high school. Each interested student is required to make a formal application to the program and to interview with a selection committee. Students are selected through a rating process by a committee consisting of representatives of the school, VR, and the host business. All students must be eligible for pre-employment transition services with Nebraska VR.

 Selected students participate in three 10-week internships during the school year. The student reports to the business each day. In each rotation the student learns job-specific skills while having the opportunity to put employability skills into practice. A certified special education teacher and a worksite skills trainer work with both the students and the business staff. Managers at the internship sites work with the Project SEARCH staff (the teacher and worksite skills trainer) to support the students during the day. Students get continuous feedback from the internship manager, co-workers, and Project SEARCH staff. Students end their day by reflecting, problem solving, planning, and journaling key learning points. The goal is to utilize the skills acquired during the internship for gainful employment.

Last school year, 103 of the 108 students (95%) who started at one of the 17 Project SEARCH sites successfully completed and graduated from the program. To learn more, visit  the Project SEARCH partnerships page.