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Project SEARCH is a New Face in the Crowd in Western South Dakota

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Employers in the Black Hills now have more options than ever when looking for the right fit for their hiring needs. A program called Project SEARCH of the Black Hills is in its fifth year of helping employers by training young professionals with disabilities to be great candidates in today’s workforce.

Project SEARCH is a new face in the crowd in Western South Dakota and is unique in its beginning and structure. The first Project SEARCH was founded in the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 1996.  Created to realize a successful partnership between young adults with disabilities, and high needs hiring areas within the hospital setting, the program quickly grew to currently have 622 sites worldwide, with more being established every year. Sites are hosted by a variety of businesses; hospitals, colleges, military bases and hotels are among the current locations, with interns being trained in all areas of their host businesses. In the Black Hills, Project SEARCH is hosted within the Monument Health system both in Rapid City, and Sturgis.

Project SEARCH is distinctive for its structure and training methods. Students aged 18-21 from Western South Dakota are invited to apply and must go through an application and interview process. Once their Project SEARCH cohort begins, the initial two weeks is devoted to learning professional behavior, soft skills training, and deep diving into the new interns' skills and interests. This helps the Project SEARCH coordinator and skills trainer begin to find the right initial placement for the new intern. As the intern grows in their skills, experience, and confidence a new opportunity within the host business or community is offered to meet their progressing skills.

When an employer chooses to host or hire a Project SEARCH intern; they can be assured the intern will be trained to do the job well.  Project SEARCH’s training model is individualized to provide consistent, daily support to each intern, until such time the person can complete the job independently. To facilitate this, as interns begin their work experiences, they are continuously supported by Project SEARCH instructors, alongside mentors from the host business to receive one-on-one training in marketable and transferable job skills. Education in their chosen internship happens in real time, as the student is instructed not only in the hard skills of the job, but in professionalism, social skills and learning to advocate for themselves on the job.

The goal of Project SEARCH of the Black Hills is to have the intern be hired in a career in which they can be independently successful. Empirical data over the past five years shows the program works. Currently, 91% of all Project SEARCH of the Black Hills interns are hired within their respective communities. They have been hired in a variety of growing fields: Health Care (patient transport and Patient Care) Human Resources, Environmental Services, Disability Advocacy, Long-Term care facilities, and Food Services.

The final piece of the Project SEARCH program is the collaborative partnerships created to help each student find success. Every intern has a network of support made up of their business mentor, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, the intern’s family, their supporting school district and Project SEARCH staff. This whole person approach helps to create a positive and supportive environment around the student. Should the student struggle with a placement, or the employer needs assistance in training, the team is always available to help with resources or ideas to overcome the intern’s challenges.

If you would like to know more about Project SEARCH of the Black Hills, or would be interested in hosting a young professional, this is an ideal time. Due to Covid-19, Project SEARCH will be providing work experiences throughout the Black Hills communities. These opportunities will provide relevant job training with diversified job skills. Project SEARCH will continue to provide a high-quality program in these times of uncertainty.  Please reach out to Heather Hoeye, Program Coordinator, at for information on students, program hosting questions, or if you’d like to hear more about the Project SEARCH program.

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