Project SEARCH interns enjoy educational SERC visit

A fact finding mission to South Eastern Regional College (SERC) in Northern Ireland saw Project SEARCH interns gain a valuable insight into work practices in another country.

The four day trip from Monday 23 May until Thursday 26 May also further strengthened Forth Valley College’s educational partnership with SERC and provided an opportunity for the interns to work on their social skills as well as build on their workplace knowledge.

The DFN Project SEARCH programme at FVC supports young people with learning difficulties to gain skills and experience aimed at helping them move into sustainable employment.

A total of seven interns: Lauren McAlister, Sarah Taylor, Jaydan Gilchrist, Owen Welsh, Craig Dillon, Thomas Chalmers and Stuart MacMillan, were accompanied by FVC Lecturer Alan Ritchie and Job Coach Jean Allan on their journey to SERC’s Bangor Campus base.

The trip took in site visits to Bangor’s Aurora Aquatic and Leisure Complex and the Magellan Aerospace factory, to hear first-hand about behind the scenes working and production practices and job progression. There was also enriching leisure time for the interns to enjoy including ten-pin bowling, plus visits to the  cinema and the Titanic Museum in Belfast.

Project SEARCH Intern and amateur blogger, Lauren McAlister – who has recently secured a job with the Seagull Trust – also covered the trip in diary form for the FVC website blog pages which can be read here  

Alan Ritchie, FVC Lecturer, said: “I would like to thank the students and staff at SERC Bangor, especially Michelle Graham, for providing and participating in an excellent experience for our interns and staff. We were made most welcome by everyone which contributed to a very positive social experience for us all, especially those interns who don’t have a wealth of social experience and can struggle a little. I would welcome the opportunity to host Michelle and her group in Scotland to further strengthen our ties.”

Michelle Graham, Lecturer in Supported Programmes at SERC who liaised with the visiting FVC Project SEARCH group, said: “We spent a brilliant few days getting to know the staff and students from Forth Valley College, it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to show them our college and our local area.” 

“Jean and Alan are so supportive, caring and fun. It was great to see the positive work ethic they instil in their interns. They are so passionate about creating great opportunities for employment by encouraging independence and skills development. It was inspiring for the SERC students to hear the positive experience of the interns on their journey to employment while on Project Search, and it is something they can use to motivate them to achieve their own career aspirations”. 

“My highlights were getting to meet some amazing young people who embraced all the trips and activities with gusto. I loved watching my students engage so enthusiastically with the Forth Valley College group and found the whole experience so beneficial for their personal development.  Definitely a collaboration I would like to continue in the future.”

Rob McDermott, Head of Learning and Quality at FVC, added: “This is another great example of how the continuing relationship between Forth Valley College, here in Scotland, and SERC, in Northern Ireland, is offering opportunities for both staff and students to experience new perspectives, whether it be in terms of teaching and learning, or as in this case, different countries and cultures. This again is another example of how we at Forth Valley College look beyond the classroom walls to Make Learning Work”.

Project SEARCH is funded by The DFN Charitable Foundation, a UK registered charity established in 2014 by David Forbes Nixon, with the express aim of promoting programmes such as this partnership between Forth Valley College, Falkirk Council Employment and Training Unit, Serco, NHS Forth Valley and Skills Development Scotland.

Based at Forth Valley Royal Hospital but being delivered this year at Forth Valley College’s Falkirk Campus on account of the Coronavirus pandemic, the award winning Project SEARCH initiative that has been recognised for its outstanding programme outcomes, supporting young adults with learning disabilities into the world of work.

As well as internal work placements, the interns also complete a selection of industry standard certificates. On-site, interns were assisted throughout by a college lecturer and a job coach – Alan Ritchie and Jean Allan – as well as Serco staff, with Falkirk Council Employment and Training Unit have been supporting the group after their time at Forth Valley College.

The programme helps interns to learn real job skills that will prepare them for work by rotating them through a variety of different work placement experiences. This, practical, work-based learning is supported by classroom activities each day, as well as regular discussion and feedback from supervisors throughout the programme.

Anyone wishing to find out more on the course which will start again in August 2022 should contact FVC on 01324 403000.