National Supported Internship Day Blog

27th Mar 2023

When I first became a mentor at Whitefield Academy Trust’s Project SEARCH, little did I know what a transformative impact this supported internship programme can have.  Over the past nine years, during my time as a mentor and job coach and now, as Head of the programme, I have seen over 100 young people with SEND transform into confident, motivated and skilled adults who are ready for the workplace.

Supported internships are the perfect introduction to the world of work; with the advice, guidance and encouragement of mentors and carefully planned placements, these internships give young people with SEND the confidence to enter work and understand what is expected of them.  Likewise – and just as importantly – they are the most powerful advocacy tool for young people with SEND.  By placing these young people at the heart of the workplace and integrating them into teams, they have the opportunity to prove themselves and show how young people with SEND are more than capable of carrying out jobs.

At present only 4.8% of people in England with a learning disability and/or autism who are known to local authorities go on to secure paid employment.  This is far too few and we desperately need to address this.

This is why I am thrilled to be celebrating the first-ever National Supported Internship Day – a day dedicated to raising the profile of these incredible programmes and showcasing the significant impact they have on young people’s lives.  And more than this, I am delighted that at Whipps Cross Hospital, we will be hosting a group of VIPs including DFN Project SEARCH Chairman David Forbes Nixon, CEO Claire Cookson and Dame Julia Cleverdon.  Over the course of the day, I look forward to introducing our guests to our interns and showing them what they are achieving here.

I am also excited to introduce them to some of the over 40 Project SEARCH graduates at the hospital.  You can barely walk along the corridor at Whipps Cross without bumping into a graduate.  They have secured jobs in a range of departments and are absolutely thriving here.  Since graduating from the programme, they have each continued to increase their confidence, to gain new skills and to be more independent.  The benefits of the programme go beyond simply securing a job – the financial means and improved sense of self has led to them being able to travel, to learn to drive and to get married.  They are now leading lives they and their families had never thought possible.

Beyond our interns and visitors, I will be introducing our guests to our host teams.  Whilst we have fantastic interns and incredible job coaches, the success of Whitefield Academy Trust’s programme at both Whipps Cross and St Bartholomew’s Hospitals is due to the unwavering support of the teams here.  At all levels from the very top of the hospital management teams, our interns have been welcomed with open arms and given every opportunity to make their mark.  The teams here have recognised the importance of this programme and been flexible to our needs.  From opening up new placements, to giving us our own base in the heart of the hospital to taking the time to train our interns, colleagues at the hospital have done whatever they can to support us.  This is reflected in how many departments frequently welcome interns and how many times we hear a knock at the door with someone asking if they can have an intern in their team.

Our hosts have bought in completely to our programme and are champions for our interns.  Whatever misconceptions they might have had about those with SEND have been completely shattered and we are beyond grateful for their support. 

But in return, our interns make a huge contribution to their teams.  They are punctual, hard-working, eager to learn and bring an enormous amount of enthusiasm to their roles.  They are a massive credit to themselves, to their families and to the entire Project SEARCH team.  Whilst every day brings a new challenge, I feel as though I have the best job in the world.  I get to see first-hand how these young people evolve over the course of a year and how proud they are of themselves.

But more than this, I am really proud of the role our programme plays in flying the flag for those with SEND.  A dedicated, national day like today is fantastic but we need to be championing their needs and interests every day if we are going to have any chance of getting more and more of these incredible young people into work.  We’ve made a great start but we must keep going!


Janet Wingate-Whyte
Head of Supported Internships, Project SEARCH