by Gloria Welton
Tremploy is now in the second cohort of an internationally recognized work skills development program called Project SEARCH. This project is taking place at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
The program assists youth with intellectual disabilities aged 18 to 25 to gain meaningful work skills and hands-on experience as they transition from high school to the labour force.
The program is offered at no cost to eligible applicants, with funding support from SkillsPEI.
The pilot started in 2022 and ran for six months. Six interns graduated after each completed two internships while in the program.
From this initial group, three have secured employment. One individual is currently working at a senior’s residence in nutrition services. A second individual is on the casual list for Environmental Services within several locations throughout Health PEI. And the third person is working in customer service at a local retail location.
The other three interns are connected with Tremploy and attend various programs there.
The present cohort of seven interns have classroom time at QEH, and unpaid internships take place within various departments.
The nine-month program is supported with solid assessment tools, curriculum, and follow-up measures that help youth build their employment skills and experience and opportunities that are right for them.
Tremploy’s partnership with Project SEARCH founder Erin Riehle began after she spoke at a Maritime Conference on Developmental Disabilities and Autism held in 2017 on PEI. “She was inspired to start this program while working in nursing at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Ohio and noticing that there was a need and a gap for youth when they left high school,” says Joel Dennis, Tremploy’s Executive Director.
The hospital she worked in served individuals with developmental disabilities, and it made sense to her that they should make plans to hire people in this group for high-turnover, entry-level positions. Erin shared her ideas with Susie Rutkowski, then the Special Education Director at Great Oaks Career Campuses. Erin and Susie formed a partnership, and together they launched Project SEARCH.
Since then, the project has grown to become a large and ever-expanding network with over 700 sites world-wide.
“The first Canadian location of this program was in Winnipeg, and more sites have opened since then,” says Joel. “To learn more and to make more connections, Business Development Officer Bruce Cluney and I went to Winnipeg to see the program in action.”
One location for the project is at the Health Sciences Centre, the largest hospital in Winnipeg. It offers specialized support for trauma, neurosurgery, burn, transplant, and psychiatric health. “The visit helped us answer a lot of our questions, and when we got back we were ready to take steps to start Project SEARCH on PEI.
“The concept of the program is to have students in a sector or a site where they could explore a number of internships to make sure the area they choose is a good fit for their skills, interests, abilities, preference, physical abilities, and so on,” says Bruce, who worked with the pilot group that was formed at QEH.
Joel says after they became familiar with the program and were licensed and had all of the resources they needed to operate the full concept on PEI, they had to find a large employer, where many internships would be possible.
“We approached Dr. Michael Gardam, Chief Executive Officer at Health PEI, and Terry Campbell, Administrator for QEH, to explore their interest in a partnership. It took some time to work out the details, but SkillsPEI immediately recognized the opportunity and came through with the funding, allowing us to start the first cohort in early 2022.
“The leadership and staff at QEH have been incredibly welcoming and supportive of the program.”
Meet the Project SEARCH team at QEH
The seven participants from across the Island in the present cohort of the program started in October 2022.
Their day starts in the classroom, discussing many topics that relate to the workplace, such as communicating and problem solving in relation to working as a team.
Each morning the students have an internship in various departments in the hospital. Each person explores three departments during the term of the program.
“In the afternoon they go to another internship and then come back to a classroom until the end of the day,” says Helen Frizzell, Instructor. She has a teaching background and has moved back to PEI after living in Ontario.
“It is amazing to see each person grow from the start of the program to where they are now,” says Helen. “Each day, I watch them learn skills and build confidence. Now the students have no problem asking questions or asking for help when they are in the internships and the Job Coach is not there.”
Helen says the program offers opportunities to try many different work settings. “We are all trying to get to that finish line together and figure out what success is for each person and what is their end goal.
“Many people struggle with deciding on a career, especially when they are young. It takes trying different areas out, learning what works better, and having support all along the way.”
The program also has two Job Skills Coaches. One position is in the hiring process and the other position is filled by Chloe Trevors, who has been with the program since the beginning. “I was hired as a Job Skills Coach to assist interns within their departments, provide support in the classroom, and network with the department heads to develop new internships throughout the hospital. We are getting great response and support from the staff of Health PEI.”
At the beginning of the project, a profile of each student was set up on a software program called Vocfit. “We sit down with the student, the parent, and all involved to go through all 150 questions that help pinpoint skillsets and interests,” says Chloe.
“Also, the computer system has a list of all the tasks of each department that will host an internship. The software helps to match the student to the internship experiences that work best.
“We record each student’s progress so when the program is over we see quite a learning curve and we are able to look at long-term employment that would be a match.”
Colin from Charlottetown had an internship in health records and is now interning in dialysis and the pharmacy. “I love doing the computer work and stacking supplies on the shelves properly and in order. In the pharmacy, I am responsible for separating the long strips of medications that are returned to the pharmacy when the patient is discharged.” After separating them, he sorts them alphabetically and then by name and dosage and puts them back on the shelf.
“In February, the participants had a week off from the program and when Colin went back to his internship in pharmacy there was a mountain of medications,” says Chloe, who regularly visits each student at their internship locations. “The interns feel wanted and needed when they come back and see the work is waiting for them.
“Colin is the most organized person, so this area of work really fits his skills and interests. He is reliable and focused, and if you leave him with a task, it will be done to perfection. Also, he follows the workplace rules really well.”
Samuel from York Point has a placement at the Cancer Treatment Centre. In this internship, Helen and Chloe both agree he has refined his ability to navigate the workplace. He has greatly improved his social skills with his coworkers and demonstrates an excellent work ethic as his Cancer Treatment Manager has acknowledged by creating a new work list for him to help him stay busy during his daily work routine.
Logan from Morell is enjoying an internship in nutrition services. He sometimes takes the bus to get to the QEH. “He learned to take the bus independently since starting the program,” says Helen. “I do whatever they need me to get done,” says Logan. “If they need me to count milk, I do that, sometimes I pour the water into the cups, and sometimes I work in the front area as well and I like that.”
Jacob from Charlottetown is based in Environmental Services. “My job is to clean around the hospital in areas such as the sanitation centres, the ATM, and the chairs and tables at various entry points to the hospital. I love being here because I care about people.”
Seabille from Summerside is originally from British Columbia. Her internships are in ambulatory and respiratory care. She takes the bus from Summerside to get to the QEH. “My mom found out about this program, and I was super excited about it. It was a bit tricky to get used to the traveling issue, but everything is fine now,” says Seabille.
“Part of Seabille’s role in ambulatory care is to be at a nursing station and be responsible for some clerical paperwork,” says Chloe. “She also makes sure the pantry in the area is stocked up. She checks various supply rooms to make sure nothing is expired, and that everything is where it should be. She also sanitizes and cleans the waiting areas. In the afternoon when patients come into the respiratory area, she directs them to the waiting room they are to go to. She loves the social part of her work and keeping things organized.”
Beonka lives in Stratford and her current internship is in the emergency room. “I heard about this program through my teachers and my mom. I thought it was a good idea to come.” The program has helped Beonka mature. “She has even begun to set goals for her own growth and her confidence has grown immensely,” says Chloe.
Thomas from Charlottetown loves his placement in materials management. Part of his job is to prepare for inventory taking, which is a big job. Thomas really enjoys working in this department as he gets to use the pallet jacks and help unload orders from the trucks.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
There are still openings for the next Project SEARCH cohort scheduled to start in September 2023. For more information, contact Helen Frizzell at 902-626-8353 or email@example.com.
For more about Tremploy and their services, call 902-892-5338 or visit www.tremploy.com.
Visit www.facebook.com/projectsearchpei/ or www.projectsearchpei.com