Intern scheme breaks down barriers

Issue: Volume 98, Number 16

Posted: 12 September 2019
Reference #: 1H9yYR

A scheme that offers work experience and skills training to eight interns with disabilities has boosted their confidence and enhanced the work culture at Burwood Hospital.

Project SEARCH is open for Canterbury students aged between 18 and 21 who are in their last year of high school and qualify for Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) funding. The Canterbury DHB scheme is the first in Australasia, although there are more than 600 programmes operating mainly in the US and Europe.

The project’s objectives are to find each intern at least 16 hours’ employment per week for a year after completing the programme, to encourage other employers to run their own Project SEARCH programmes, and, break down barriers for disabled New Zealanders who want to enter the workforce.

Workforce should reflect community

“At the Canterbury DHB, we believe our workforce should reflect the communities we serve – and one in four New Zealanders have disabilities,” says Michael Frampton, chief people officer for the DHB.

“We’re committed to building and supporting a diverse workforce that accepts people for who they are and celebrates their differences. 

“By welcoming Project SEARCH to Burwood Hospital, we’re not only helping these interns to start building a career, but we’re also trying to break down the barriers that lock disabled New Zealanders out of the workforce.” 

Each intern has three 10-week placements, which may include working in IT, administration, the café and kitchen, garden maintenance, physio, the mailroom, orderly services or waste management. 

Not only do the interns learn tangible skills and build networks, but they also learn important interpersonal skills to help them navigate the workplace. 

Teaching new skills

Michael says that each placement is designed to teach a new set of skills. 

“They are doing real work and are part of the teams that are delivering care. We also try to pair up the real-world work experience with some of those social skills that you can only learn in the workplace, such as the kinds of conversations it’s appropriate to have at work.”

The programme is run as a partnership model between Canterbury DHB, Riccarton High School, CCS Disability Action, Blind Foundation, IHC Foundation, and Workbridge.  

ORS resourcing is used to support the Project SEARCH programme through a managing school. Riccarton High School has had this role in 2019 and has worked with the Ministry of Education and other enrolling schools to ensure successful outcomes for the interns. 

Each morning, interns report to an onsite classroom where they plan and prepare for their day ahead. Work happens between 10am and 2pm, when they return to the classroom to discuss the lessons and challenges of the day. Each intern has a mentor, who is usually a Burwood manager or experienced staff member, and support comes from tutors and skills trainers.

Partnership model successful

“Project SEARCH is about preparing young people with disabilities for employment,” says Michael. 

“A number of these young people are eligible for a range of funding support. The partner organisations pool knowledge, resources and, in some cases their funding, to deliver the programme. 

“We were able to bring people around the table to have conversations about how to support a single programme and the partnership model is one of the huge strengths of Project SEARCH.”

While the Canterbury DHB is committed to growing Project SEARCH, Michael says it’s important not to compromise the quality of the programme, which is complex and intensive. 

“Burwood has provided a wonderful place for us to start, but we deliver care from more than 200 facilities across Canterbury and employ more than 10,000 people, so there are opportunities to explore appropriate placements.”

Scheme benefits all

The interns have grown in skills and confidence and are highly motivated and enthusiastic in their work, with ‘exemplary attendance’. As for the staff at Burwood, Michael reports that the scheme has enhanced the workplace culture, as staff want to help the interns succeed. 

“Having to teach things in different ways is also a great professional development opportunity for our people and the interns have been sought out for a number of training opportunities including first aid training, evacuation chair training and fire training,” he says.

The Canterbury DHB intends to hire at least one intern and has established a business advisory group to connect interns with job opportunities in the Canterbury community. 

Focus on building skills

“While they are with us, we are very focused on giving them a rich set of skills they can use,” says Michael.

“The business advisory group has been set up to ensure we have good connections to the world of work, and that the placements are teaching useful skills for the jobs that may be available to the young people at the end of the programme.” 

Project SEARCH will run again at Burwood Hospital in 2020, and the DHB is keen to help other organisations and businesses run their own Project SEARCH programmes in Canterbury and around New Zealand.

For more information about Project SEARCH, email

What the interns say

I’ve been enjoying working in the kitchen and learning new skills like how to clean a dishwasher properly. I had a trainer come from Ecolab to teach me. I enjoy spending time with my fellow interns. 


Project SEARCH is fun to do. I like making new friends and working with other people. My new internship is good and I’ve been learning to clean the crutches and fixing the trolley and cleaning hospital equipment.

Tor enjoyed his placement in waste management.


It’s been good with the Spinal Unit girls. I am quite happy there and feel like I am better at the way we greet each other. They are giving me a lot of respect. I’ve been learning skills like putting the towels and flannels neatly in the cupboard and cleaning the bathrooms.


I am enjoying learning more computer skills, getting pictures on the computer, printing and laminating them. Over time I will improve. I’m also enjoying getting more involved with the patients in the ward and having conversations with them.


BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:36 am, 12 September 2019

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