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Project Search – a route into employment for young people

Project Search is looking for new students to join. From left to right: job coach Susan Anderson, job coach Ashley Leask, student Louise Jackson, student Josh Clark and college lecturer Kari Hamilton. Photo Sarah Cooper for Shetland News
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Project Search – a route into employment for young people

PROJECT Search is an employability programme based in Lerwick that supports young people with additional support needs into work, using a combination of classroom-based learning and work placements, writes Sarah Cooper.

The programme, which follows the academic year, is looking to recruit its next batch of students to start around August or September 2022.

The primary eligibility criteria for Project Search is for young people to be aged between 17 and 29. College lecturer Kari Hamilton, who has been involved in the project since it began in 2018, said people outside of those age brackets shouldn’t be discouraged from applying.

“Every case is looked at individually, and if the program is right for someone, we’d encourage them to apply anyway,” she said.

The course follows a person-centred approach and is completely tailored to the individual. While attending Project Search, students will attend three placements lasting ten weeks each. These placements can vary depending on where the students’ interests lie.

The placement offers the students an opportunity to show an employer their skills, instead of going through a standard recruitment process. This is especially beneficial for people who may not perform well during competency-based interviews.

However, sometimes, students don’t have specific job goals and so the placements are an opportunity for them to experience different industries to narrow down their aspirations. Previously, they’ve offered students placements in administration, waste management, retail, care, janitorial work, and cleaning.

Student Louise Jackson, 25, joined Project Search in November 2021 and has sourced a successful admin placement at the Edward Thomason care home through Shetland Islands Council.

She called Project Search “the best experience of my life”. Louise said: “When the pandemic happened it hit me really hard, my confidence was low. When I heard about Project Search, I thought this was the best chance for me to come back into employment.

“I’ve seen such a difference in myself from before I joined Project Search to now. My confidence has really grown, and I’m a much happier person.”

Job coach Ashley Leask explained their role in supporting the students: “The whole way along the project, we also help the students look for potential employment and support them through that process. The hope is they move on into permanent employment.”

Project Search is partnered with Shetland Islands Council and Shetland UHI to provide the best outcomes for their students.

Denise Bell, the council’s executive manager Human Resources said: “We are involved in supporting a range of employability programmes, but Project Search really stands out; it’s an internationally developed programme with lots of supporting research and data behind it, demonstrating that it really does deliver positive outcomes for young people.”

Once the year is up, students still have access to another ten months of support to find a job, or in-work support if they’ve successfully gained employment.

For employers, the benefit comes in having a young person adding additional staff to their workforce at no extra cost. The SIC highlighted some benefits of working with students from Project Search, saying the programme “provides a new diverse talent stream of people who are ready for work”.

Coaches at Project Search work in tandem with employers to benefit both them and the students. Susan Anderson, one of the job coaches, explained: “We learn the tasks with the students so we can support them without the employer’s losing manpower for training a new person.”

Another student, Josh Clark, has been doing data entry for the housing department at SIC. He has found the placements helpful for establishing a better routine and give him something to focus on. Both Louise and Josh have received excellent feedback from the employers during their placements.

Louise’s placement sees her processing LFT and PCR Covid tests for the staff at Edward Thomason. “I think they’ve been so thankful that I’ve been there because it means I’ve taken the pressure off them. With me being around, they can get on with what they need to do,” she said.

By the end of Project Search, students will receive an SCQF Level 3 or 4 qualification in Employability and Steps to Work. Students are eligible for a bursary when attending the programme, although this can affect housing benefit.

Louise had some advice for prospective students who are thinking about applying. She said: “Just join! It’s such a good experience. The job coaches are so nice and are always there to support you through absolutely anything, no matter what it is.”


Applications close on Friday 27 May for the next year. Project Search is looking for young people who are motivated to work and can travel independently in Shetland. If you think you fit the bill, you can contact them on 01595 744170, or email projectsearchallstaff@shetland.gov.uk to get more information and be sent an application form.

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