Supported Internships | Project SEARCH

Porter Group Photo    A student stood with his mentor in the stores    Woman holding linen in linen room     Porter

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust is proud to host Project SEARCH Derriford: a Supported Internship model that nurtures the existing skills of young adults with a learning disability, whilst also providing meaningful training and valuable experience in a workplace environment.  

In collaboration with our partners, PLUSS and City College Plymouth, we strive to offer a supportive learning environment for interns to thrive; and ultimately progress into mainstream paid employment.

Where it all began

Project SEARCH started in the USA in the mid 1990’s and worked hard to demonstrate how young people with a learning disability can enrich a workforce. With more than 600 sites world-wide, their message continues to encourage more employers to increase their level of diversity within their workforce and embrace the incredible skills and talents these young people have to offer.

One of the first sites in the UK, Project SEARCH Derriford is seen as an example of best practice. It is a multi-award winning project with over 14 years’ experience supporting individuals through the programme.

What is Project SEARCH Derriford?

Project SEARCH Derriford offers 18-24 year olds with a diagnosed Learning Disability and a Plymouth Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) the chance to experience the working environment for one academic year within any of the University Hospitals Plymouth sites.

The partners support interns to experience working life in the form of three carefully selected internships, shadowing and working alongside NHS staff to learn the skills needed to gain and keep paid work. 

In addition to the internships, the students complete a City and Guilds Level 1 Certificate in Employability Skills. The course runs Monday to Friday, 9am until 4pm, over one academic year. 

What are the internship placements like?

Internship placements are available in a range of departments and roles throughout the hospital such as:

  • Logistics
  • Portering
  • Radiology
  • Pathology
  • Clinical Engineering
  • Pharmacy
  • Admin
  • IT
  • Hospitality

During their 7-hour day, Interns will typically work and learn alongside a designated NHS mentor for between 4 and 5 hours before returning to the classroom environment to embed their learning and reflect on their experiences. 

Hear from our interns

You can read the experience that two of our supported interns, through Project SEARCH from 2023/24 on the UHP Blog.

What about the mentors?

It’s not just the interns that find the experience rewarding. Pete mentors the interns during their placement in Logistics. He has taken part in mentoring a number of interns for over 6 years and says he gets as much out of it as the interns:

“They’ve changed the way I look at things, like my own work through this experience. It’s not a soft option. They get to experience a whole spectrum of what logistics do.”

Christina, a Senior Assistant Technical Officer in Pharmacy supply agrees:

“They are an absolute asset, and they help us out so much. We have 3 members of permanent staff in Pharmacy who were hired after they participated in Project SEARCH.”

Project SEARCH is a proven way of helping young people with learning disabilities to get into paid employment, paying into society and enabling them to achieve their dreams of an independent adult life. 

How successful is the programme?

Nationally, in England only 4.8% of people with a learning disability who are known to local authorities go on to secure paid employment. Over the last 3 years Project SEARCH Derriford has supported 45% of its graduate interns into paid work within administration, pharmacy, catering, cleaning, portering, retail and support services. 

Sean a previous intern is one student who is proof that the programme leads to positive change. After a successful placement in our IM&T department, Sean was encouraged and supported to apply for an apprenticeship. After successfully completing the interview process, Sean now enjoys a full time career within our IM&T Team. Sean’s dad Alan said “Sean’s apprenticeship shows that the project works.”

Am I eligible?

  • Are you aged 18 to 24 years when commencing the programme?
  • Do you live at a Plymouth city address, which pays council tax to Plymouth City Council?
  • Do you have a Plymouth Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP)?

If you have answered yes to the questions above, you are eligible to apply for the programme, with the chance to join us here at Project SEARCH Derriford. There may be some additional checks required and you will have to take part in an interview day before being guaranteed a place on the programme.

How do I get involved?

To be considered for an internship for the next academic year in September, or for further information, please phone or text one of the Project SEARCH team as soon as possible:

You can submit an application for Project SEARCH Derriford, by following this link to the City College Plymouth application page.

Project SEARCH Graduation


The partnership involves:

DFN Project SEARCH Logo      Seetec Pluss Logo      CCP Logo UHP Logo

Useful Links:

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