Project Search is an internship employment model for job seekers with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) whose goal is competitive integrated employment. Project Search participants learn workplace skills and tasks in a combination of classroom and workplace settings at a community employment site.

Project Search is usually targeted at young adults finishing high school. Over the last decade, Florida has established up to 40 sites for transition-age youth. With the success of these sites, stakeholders in Florida began studying the possibility of creating Project Search programs for adults with IDD receiving Adult Day Training (ADT) services. The intent is that after participating in Project Search, adults with IDD will have the necessary experiences to make an informed choice about obtaining a job in their community.

In April 2021, The Florida Developmental Disabilities Council (FDDC) and Respect of Florida, the business development organization within the Florida Association of Rehabilitation Facilities (FLARF), began collaborating to identify four employment service providers who would partner with the Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) and the National Project Search office at the University of Cincinnati (the originators of Project Search) to expand Project Search to adults. Their goal was to establish four internship sites within health, hospitality, or other local industries. Four service provider agencies in different geographic locations throughout Florida agreed to provide employment support to the Project Search internship sites. Each of these providers was a Certified Employment Center with experience finding community employment opportunities. By late 2021, they each had a work site committed to hosting the program. The Employment Centers identified for implementing the Florida Project Search Adult Model are:

  • The Arc of Putnam County in Palatka, FL
  • The ARC of Martin County in Stuart, FL
  • Goodwill Suncoast in Clearwater, FL
  • The MacDonald Training Center in Tampa, FL

The FDDC also entered into an agreement to have these programs licensed and to have training and technical assistance provided by the Project Search program. The National Project Search office ran trainings for the employment center staff who would be supporting them at the sites.

Each program planned an information session for potential participants and sent flyers out to advertise their information session. The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) referred potential participants and advertised and attended the open house events. Family members were also invited to learn how this employment model worked and to ask any questions or voice concerns. During the information sessions, individuals learned that they would:

  • be an intern in the healthcare, hospitality, or other large business industry
  • have opportunities to be immersed in the workplace
  • have opportunities to experience three different 10-week internships within one business
  • gain marketable work skills through their on-the-job training
  • participate in a daily employability skills curriculum to reinforce their on-the-job learning
  • work with a team that includes their family, an instructor, a skills trainer, and local and state
  • agencies to create and reach their employment goals

All interested participants had to currently be receiving ADT services and participate in an interview and application process.

The Florida Project Search Adult Model employment sites opened in January 2022. Each site is running a 9-month internship for adults with IDD. Most participants have had limited to no experience working in integrated settings. The National Project Search office is researching the progress of the internships through September 2022. Their final report on the adult model is due in June 2023.

Lessons Learned:

  • The Project Search Adult model offers an opportunity for adults with IDD to receive training and work experiences in their community.
  • The model is grounded in evidence-based practices for integrated employment and supports people with limited employment histories to gain experience working in the community.
  • For adults with limited work experience, the opportunity to rotate through a variety of structured tasks helps individuals prepare for more intensive job development experiences.

For more information, contact:

Susan DeBeaugrine