#RESPECTTHEABILITY CAMPAIGN: SPOTLIGHT ON PROJECT SEARCH
Job Openings in Healthcare Market Growing: Employees with Disabilities Help Hospitals Help Patients
Los Angeles, Calif., Feb. 17 – Filing, answering phones, providing customer service and making linen orders are just a few of the tasks Lily Fischer-Gilday completes in her rotation as an office assistant at the PathPoint Project SEARCH site at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica.
Fischer-Gilday is learning skills transferable to many industries, working alongside her supervisor Remy Abraham, who previously served as a job coach for the program. In September 2016, she began a yearlong program that has a greater than 70 percent success rate in ensuring its participants, all of whom have a developmental disability, find appropriate employment in an integrated setting.
“I’m an office assistant,” Fischer-Gilday proudly stated when asked about her position. “This is my first rotation. For my second rotation I hope to be trying out making badges. That seems pretty cool.”
At UCLA Medical Center and at other hospitals around the county, Project SEARCH interns work throughout the hospital, assisting the regularly employed staff in any task they need help fulfilling. Participation in the internship provides employers with great talent and the interns are compensated with work experience they can take with them into the competitive labor market.
Project SEARCH was launched in 1997 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 1997 as a way to fill high-turnover positions and help youth with disabilities prepare for adult life. Since then, this model program has grown rapidly to nearly 500 host sites in 48 states and four countries.
Fischer-Gilday, like the other 12 people in the UCLA Health program per year, will rotate through four different internships during this high school transition program in order to build upon their skills and work place etiquette. Participants are guided through each rotation with the aid of a supervisor who teaches them each task. They work in their rotation department Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. through 1:00 p.m.
The healthcare market is only going to grow as Baby Boomers age. By 2020, healthcare employers will have more than 1.3 million job openings. Employers need loyal workers ready to fill these openings. Talented youth with disabilities can thrive in these jobs and earn a good income. That is why programs like Project SEARCH are a win-win situation for healthcare employers. Best of all, these young people are a part of the staff at UCLA Health and significantly boost employee morale.
The program also offers the assistance of a job coach along with on-site teachers. Every afternoon, participants meet with their job coach and learn important skills necessary for employment.
Remy Abraham served as a job coach for four years before switching positions.
“We teach about communication skills in the workplace,” she said of her time teaching the interns. Other skills she taught during class time included resume writing, cover letters, thank you letters, resignation letters and employability skills.
Many participants, like Lily, have expressed their gratitude and excitement in being part of Project SEARCH. For them, it is a chance to gain independence and have an opportunity to reach their goal of employment.
“I’m a caterer, not a cook, but delivery,” said Lionel Taplin, another current participant.
Taplin discovered Project SEARCH and decided it be a good fit for him.
“I think it was surprising that I kind of picked it myself,” he said. “I did two or three interviews and I’m here. I wanted to try Project SEARCH to do new things.”
In the six years since UCLA Health became a Project SEARCH site, 64 people have graduated the program, 16 of whom have been hired as UCLA employees, and another 28 in the surrounding community. Many of these positions are full-time with benefits.
“Our goal is 100 percent. Everyone that comes in the program, we want to get them a job,” said Mark Steidl, a current project manager at the UCLA Health site. “We place at least 70 percent of individuals into work after the program.”
A video created by UCLA Health to encourage other departments within UCLA Health to participate highlighted several of these individuals.
“I just did everything to the best of my ability and kept striving to get new stuff done,” Tyler Alvarado says of his time in central tech as a Project SEARCH intern, which led to a job in central service tech materials management. “They saw that I was willing to do more than I was asked.”
“It felt like freedom,” Corinna Hitchman, store keeper in materials management, said when she was offered a job in the unit where was interning. “I finally can have my own money now. I don’t have to rely on my parents to help me out. My parents are very proud of me. They call me the working girl.”
Outside of becoming employed at sites like UCLA Health, many participants are hired by other employers. The efforts of Project SEARCH’s business alliance council, which consists of businesses such as Walmart, Target and Nickelodeon animation studios, help to insure that more interns leave the program with job security.
Elena Ashmore, who completed the Project SEARCH program in 2013 and was featured in the UCLA Health video, later became a star on A&E’s Born This Way.
“[It] really gets them invested in following the interns throughout the year and also possibly discussing, if they’re not going to get a job at the hospital, let’s say, what skills do they need to maybe get a job at one of these other companies on the business advisory council,” said Steidl.
Many former interns credit the on-the-job experience and job coaching as reasons for their successful employment.
“The job of the job coach is to educate the employers and managers so that they know how to interact and teach on their own,” Steidl said. “A job coach isn’t going to be there all of the time so it’s important to build those natural supports around the person, whether it’s coworkers or managers.”
Even after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, 70 percent of adults with disabilities are still outside of the workforce. Millions of working-age adults with disabilities that do not enter the workforce – more than 9 million – rely on government benefits, which cost taxpayers, on average, more than $300,000 over the course of their lifetime. Project SEARCH prepares these youth for competitive employment so that they can be self-sufficient and save taxpayer dollars.
Project SEARCH currently has 18 different locations in California and more than 500 sites across the United States and Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland and Australia.
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Download our free toolkit, “Disability Employment First Planning Tool,” for more information.