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27th Mar 2023

~ National Day dedicated to showcasing what young people with SEND can achieve in the workplace ~

~ VIPs visit Whipps Cross Hospital ~

Today Whitefield Academy Trust hosted the inaugural National Supported Internship Day – a government backed national day dedicated to raising awareness of supported internships and how important they are in helping young people with learning disabilities and/or autism enter the workplace.

Through its DFN Project SEARCH programme, Whitefield Academy Trust gives young people aged 16-24 with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND) real hands-on experience of the work place and equips them with vital employability skills.  The Trust currently has 18 interns working across two sites at Whipps Cross Hospital and St Bartholomew’s Hospital – both part of Barts NHS Trust.  Over the course of ten months, the interns spend time carrying out proper jobs in different departments across the hospital gaining important and useful skills.  Placements include as ward hosts, in administrative roles, as porters and in maintenance teams.  Interns also complete an ASDAN Employability qualification which teaches them skills such as how to search for jobs, how to write a CV and how to prepare for an interview.

Led by charity DFN Project SEARCH, National Supported Internship Day has been launched to showcase the tremendous contribution young adults with SEND can make to the workforce and raise awareness of the hugely positive impact a supported internship has on the lives of the interns who take part.  The Day is part of DFN Project SEARCH’s wider #InclusionRevolution campaign launched last year to encourage UK businesses to recognise the social and economic value in employing young adults with SEND.

Currently, 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 compared to 80% of their peers.  National Supported Internship Day seeks to meet this challenge and address everyday misconceptions around young adults with SEND’s ability to succeed in the workplace.

To mark National Supported Internship Day, Whitefield Academy Trust’s DFN Project SEARCH hosted a group of VIPs at its base in Whipps Cross Hospital.  Guests included Dame Julia Cleverdon, Non-Executive Director of Youth Futures Foundation, and Brian Linden, co-founder of Second Chance which helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds improve their education and sustain employment.

The guests visited a number of the interns who were working in their departments and spoke to them about their experience so far and the impact the programme has had on them.  They also met some of the 44 graduates who are working in the hospital.  They spoke to the guests about how their time on DFN Project SEARCH has prepared them for the world of work and allowed them to secure meaningful, paid employment.

Commenting on the day, Janet Wingate-Whyte, Head of Project SEARCH at Whitefield Academy Trust, said:

“It has been an honour to host the first-ever Supported Internship Day and to show our visitors how our interns and graduates are thriving here.  They are our best advocates for what people with SEND can achieve and how much they can contribute to the workplace.  Having been based at Whipps Cross Hospital for almost ten years, you can scarcely walk down the corridor without bumping into one of our graduates who has secured permanent employment here.  They have each earned their positions on their own merit and it’s wonderful to see their confidence, independence and self-esteem continue to grow.”

Kirstie Fulthorpe, Chief Executive of Whitefield Academy Trust, said:

“As an organisation which works solely with children and young people with SEND, we know just how much they have to offer and what a valuable contribution they can make to the workplace.  As National Supported Internship Day highlights, far too few young people with SEND are securing employment and it is vital that we show employers just what they can achieve.  Whitefield Academy Trust looks forward to supporting DFN Project SEARCH as it seeks to encourage more organisations to employ those with SEND.

“We greatly value our partnership with Whipps Cross and St Bartholomew’s Hospitals who fully recognise the important contribution our interns make.  At all levels and in all departments, our interns have been welcomed, supported and praised and we are very grateful to colleagues at both hospitals for their unwavering commitment to Project SEARCH, our interns and our graduates.”

David Forbes Nixon, Founder and Executive Chair of DFN Project SEARCH, who attended the event at Whipps Cross Hospital, said:

‘We created National Supported Internships Day to give every young adult with a learning disability the same opportunities as anyone else to transition from education to employment.  There is often a fear factor among employers of getting it wrong in hiring young adults with a learning disability, but it doesn’t need to be like that. It makes good business sense to explore the wealth of untapped potential among this group of enthusiastic and capable young people. They are keen, ambitious, and have an array of talent to offer employers.”

Ralph Coulbeck, Chief Executive, Whipps Cross Hospital, said:

“It’s a privilege to be able to help support our Project SEARCH interns at Whipps Cross.  Having a nationally recognised day to celebrate their achievements is so deserved and we are delighted to be involved.  We are very proud of all our interns and their contributions to our hospital.  We look forward to continuing our collaboration with DFN Project Search and helping young adults gain useful skills and employment with us.”