On Thursday 1 April 2021, we welcomed Mr Toby Perkins, Shadow Minister for Apprenticeships and Lifelong Learning and Kate Green, Shadow Secretary of State for Education to find out more about Project SEARCH at Motorpoint in Derby.

Project SEARCH supports young people aged 18 to 24 – from Derby City and the surrounding areas with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and autism spectrum conditions – make successful transitions from school to productive adult life and gain the skills they need to achieve meaningful paid jobs.

The visit was arranged following on from DEBP’s open letter of response to the White Paper ‘Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth’ and subsequent conversation between Clare Talati, Managing Director at DEBP and Mr Toby Perkins.

Clare Talati said, “Supported internships are a key pathway that deliver the best outcomes for learners with additional needs.  Nationally only 6 per cent of young adults with a learning disability known to their local authority are in paid work and this figure is much lower in Derbyshire.  If the Government wants to recognise SEND applicants as viable employees, then a strategy must be developed to assist this group of exceptional candidates to have the chance to secure meaningful employment.”

Mr Toby Perkins and Kate Green had the opportunity to hear from staff and key partners in the programme – Clare Talati plus Carmel McKeogh, Director and Programme Specialist DFN Project Search and Debbie Gerring, Headteacher at St Martins School – about how supported internships really work and make a difference.  They were joined by some of the employers involved including D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership, University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust, ISS UK and Motorpoint who explained that the interns had a genuine impact and bring loyalty and positivity to the workplace.

Mr Toby Perkins and Kate Green also had an introduction to Project SEARCH from the young people themselves.  They attended a lesson focusing on skills and attitudes required for different job roles and had the opportunity to speak to the young people about their experiences on the programme. 

Finally, some of the parents shared the impact this project can and does have on the families too.  One parent shared the daily struggles she had with her daughter before she joined the programme.  ‘It was difficult to imagine what sort of future she might have.  Before Project SEARCH she was bored out of her mind and did not know where she was going in life which had a big impact on her health and wellbeing. Project SEARCH has been life changing.’

Clare Talati said, “We are incredibly proud of Project SEARCH and the achievements of the young people involved.  We hope we’ve been able to give a good insight into the programme and hope to continue discussions with Mr Toby Perkins and Kate Green to help raise awareness of the benefits of creating inclusive work environments.”