Achievements of young people with autism and learning disabilities celebrated at DFN Project Search graduation day

The achievements of six young people with autism and learning disabilities have been celebrated during a special graduation day.

The cohort have all graduated from Lancashire County Council's supported internship programme, DFN Project Search, a one-year transition-to-work programme for young people in their final year of school or college that provides total workplace immersion to help prepare them for employment.

The programme helps interns acquire competitive, transferable, and marketable job skills and helps them gain increased independence, confidence, and self-esteem.

Lancashire County Council works with Preston College and Hft, a national charity providing services for people with learning disabilities, to deliver the programme.

On Monday 4 July, six interns and their families came together to celebrate their achievements. The event was opened by County Councillor Keith Iddon, Vice-Chairman of Lancashire County Council. County Councillor Rear, cabinet member for education and skills, and County Councillor Towneley, cabinet member for children and families, also attended.

Guests heard from the interns about what they had been doing on their work placements in teams across the council including ICT, Facilities and HR. The young people described how they had gained skills to help them both in the workplace and to live a more independent life. Interns were then presented with awards from Preston College's Vice Principle, Marie Haworth.

County Councillor Iddon said: "DFN Project Search is a wonderful initiative that gives young people a real opportunity to grow and progress through life.

"Our programme has consistently led to permanent jobs for our applicants, which shows the calibre of people who have taken part and our staff who have guided them along the way.

"Congratulations to our six graduates who completed the programme. We wish you the greatest success in your future endeavours."

Since introducing the programme in September 2018, 16 young people with learning disabilities from Lancashire have gained paid employment within the local community. A number of graduates have gained paid employment with the County Council, including two people from the latest cohort.

Compared to the general population, young people with a learning disability are significantly less likely to be in full time paid employment. National statistics show that only 5.1% of people with special educational needs and disabilities gain permanent paid employment in the UK. For staff and elected members in Lancashire County Council, that is not good enough.

The County Council now has five operational programmes in the county – alongside this one at our main offices in Preston, there is also one with Calico in Burnley and one with Progress Housing in Leyland. Two new programmes based at Lancashire Constabulary in Hutton and Royal Lancaster Infirmary both start in September.

County Councillor Rear, cabinet member for education and skills, said: "The opportunities DFN Project Search programmes can give young people are life-changing.

"They give young adults with autism and learning disabilities the skills and confidence to succeed in the workplace and provide a pathway that is often not there.

"The new programmes we will be delivering from September are big steps forward for the programme, and I am looking forward to seeing how they will change the lives of our young people."