Program helps students with disabilities gain work experience

Project SEARCH connects interns with local business owners and hiring managers
Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 5:57 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Thanks to an internship program, young adults with disabilities are getting connected with career opportunities in the Chippewa Valley. Project SEARCH is working to help students gain real life work experience and independence.

“Even though you have a disability, you’re still capable of doing things that other people can do,” Jessa Martin, Project SEARCH intern, said.

Project SEARCH instructor, Tim Burns, said the program helps young people with disabilities navigate the real world and feel confident going into the workforce.

“They’re immersed in the business, in the workplace, learning real work skills, soft skills and how important those are for continued success in the workplace. Like getting along with your coworkers and being able to manage your time and all those things are so important to their success, and that’s what they’re learning from this experience,” Burns said.

Today, Project SEARCH invited local business owners and hiring manager to Micon Cinema for a chance to learn about the program and meet with this year’s interns.

“We’ve got a great dynamic group of interns and our hope is to partner them with a super dynamic group of people that are here as our business advisory folks. That’s the number one goal of our program is employment,” Burns said.

A parent of a previous intern, Karen Peikert, said the program helped her son gain skills to get him through the disability cliff. The disability cliff is a term often used to describe when people with disabilities age out of the school support systems that normally help them succeed.

“I think Project SEARCH changed the trajectory of his life. I really do. I think the skills that he gained and the confidence that he gained has allowed him to find a job and keep a job. It has changed everything for him. I absolutely saw a difference in his ability to navigate the world independently,” Piekert said.

Project SEARCH is a program meant to benefit employers too.

“Really the reality is that by hiring people with differing abilities, you’re really strengthening and diversifying your workforce,” Burns said.

Over 90% of Project SEARCH graduates are hired as full-time employees in the Chippewa Valley. Contact the Eau Claire Area School District if you are interested in applying or learning more about Project SEARCH.