Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Disabled youth earn experience, job skills

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A search for a job is tough enough these days -- but what if you have no job experience?

And what if you also have intellectual disabilities?

For the first time in Canada, an innovative job-training and workplace-internship program pioneered at a children's hospital in the United States is helping young adults who have intellectual disabilities in Winnipeg have a better chance of getting work after high school.

Thanks to SCE LifeWorks, in partnership with Manitoba Hydro and the provincial government, Project Search is in its second year of assisting seven young adults turn their final year of high school into a year of work experience and training.

"We're replicating the program developed at Cincinnati's Children's Hospital," Oly Backstrom, president and CEO of SCE LifeWorks said.

"It's for high school students labelled with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Instead of their last year of high school, they go to Manitoba Hydro and the Manitoba government and work."

Manitoba Hydro provides a classroom in its downtown head office for all of the students to meet first thing in the morning and to be taught workplace skills.

Then the students fan out to spend most of the day working. The job placements are broken down into the three semesters so each of the students gets diverse experience at three different workplaces between September and June.

Besides Manitoba Hydro, the placements include the province's departments of Justice, Family Services, Labour, Civil Service Commission, and Infrastructure and Transportation.

The jobs include clerical work, data entry, stocking of supplies, training-material preparation and groundskeeping.

At the end of the day, the students return to the classroom to talk about the day and journal what they learned.

Five school divisions -- Seven Oaks, St. James-Assiniboia, Pembina Trails, Louis Riel and Seine River -- participate in the program.

Carla Dayholos, a parent whose child was in the program last year, said "Project Search is an excellent opportunity for students to grow and to be treated as responsible young adults.

"We had many challenges in working with the school system and it is such a relief to have our daughter involved in an organization that is there for her."

Backstrom said five of the eight students in the first year were hired for summer-term positions, with one working after their term position was renewed.

"We've had very positive feedback about the program from all of the departments involved," said Erin Polcyn Sailer, executive director of the policy and programs branch of the province's civil service commission.

"We're hoping other departments will participate going forward... we have helped build awareness that people with disabilities have valuable skills and far too often are an untapped resource."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 3, 2012 A7

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