Project Search At The Marriott

Podcast Episode 39. Work is central to most of our lives. It not only provides a purpose to our day but also makes us feel an integral part of the society we live in. In this week’s podcast we hear about the Project Search program, being run at the Marriott Hotel in Heathrow UK, which provides an innovative approach to help young people with additional needs find paid employment. The people responsible for running the program are Maxine Simpson, course tutor, Sue Stock, job coach and Saimmah Ali, job developer.

Maxine explains briefly the history of Project Search, which originated in the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 1996. She talks about how the program works and how the interns take part in lessons at the beginning of the workday on building teamwork and personal skills. This is then followed by their placement within a department at the hotel. At the end of the day, there is a debrief where interns have the chance to talk about their day and review any problems or issues they experienced.

Sue talks about how, along with Maxine and Sam, she is involved in the ongoing assessment of the intern’s performance. As the job coach, she provides feedback to help them to think about what their next steps should be and what type of job roles they might want to pursue. Sue explains how the interns work on rotation in different departments, which enables them to learn new skills, build a CV and identify what type of roles they like most.

Sam is a job developer, a role that involves networking with potential employers, based on what the interns have identified as industries they would like to potentially work in. Sam explains some of the challenges with this role in changing employer perceptions. She explains it takes time to break down the “fear factor” that a lot of employers have. One way to overcome this is with an unpaid trial to show an employer the abilities of a young person, instead of always having a formal interview process, which some young people struggle with.

Maxine, Sue and Sam discuss the types of challenges that young people face at the beginning of the program, transitioning from education to employment. It’s usually not the work skills that the young people struggle with, but rather their personal skills and learning how to behave maturely in the workplace. Maxine talks about the positive impact Project Search has had within the Marriott, where all staff have benefitted so much that Project Search programs are set to be rolled out across other Marriot hotels.

The success of Project Search is really down to a work based integrated supportive approach, which helps ensure that by the time a young person completes the program, they not only have a better idea about what they want to do, but they also have links with prospective employers. Project Search is providing a template for how to help young people with additional needs find paid employment that is right for them.

Show Full Transcript
Podcast Transcript
DEBRA: Welcome to episode 39 of the Journey Skills podcast. This episode I’m talking to Maxine, Sue, and Sam who are part of a Project Search program run at the Marriott Hotel in Heathrow in the UK. Now obviously, I dream about my daughter living away from home, in a place of her own, ideally with a few friends. She will clearly need some help to do that and whatever house she lives we need to be adapted to make sure that she stays safe. And realistically, that’s a way off. She’s only sixteen so hopefully by twenty-five, that will be her reality. But if she does get to the point of sharing a house and living like most young people, it doesn’t solve the issue of what she would do with her days. I don’t need to tell anyone listening to this podcast about the percentages of young people with additional needs who actually have a paid job. It’s only acceptably low and one of the main barriers I believe to them being independent of us. We hear about this cliff edge when education finishes because school offers a place to go, it’s a lot like a job in a way. It fills the day – you get out of bed, or be it grudgingly, at least on my daughter’s part, and it also fulfills the social need as well.

And for most people, after school or education comes a job; a place to go, to make friends, a sense of purpose. And that’s without even thinking about the freedom that earning a wage can bring as well. So Project Search is all about helping young people with additional needs get paid employment. They referred to what they do as supported internships and you actually hear it in the podcast that aim is paid work at the end of these. And what I think is really the strength of this program it’s not training for training sake, it’s training with purpose. The purpose is reached because of the structure of the program. Not only there is a tutor to help the young people develop their skills, there’s job coach and a job developer. It’s the combination of these roles which helps ensure that by the end of the program, young people not only have a better idea of what they want to do but I also have links with prospective employers. There are few things in here that are specific to the U. K. but this is a worldwide program. So I’m sure if you look it out wherever you live, you’ll find how this might work for your son or daughter. I have put some links about Projects Search in the show notes for this episode on the Journey Skills website as well. I hope you find this whole program as exciting to hear about as I did.

DEBRA: This week I’m talking to Maxine who’s a course tutor, Sue who is a job coach and Sam who is a job developer. Welcome!

MAXINE: Well, thank you very much.

DEBRA: Can you tell me about Project Search, how it got started and exactly what it caused you here?

MAXINE: Okay, well, Project Search originated in the U. S. site where it begun in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 1996. A lady called Erin Real was the director of the emergency department and she realized that the hospital treated many young people with special educational needs and disabilities and at the same time they had lots of entry level high turnover jobs and she had the inspiration that perhaps she could match the two and she worked along with the lady called Suzie Makowski to design the actual program. And then it gradually grew from America. There are now I think it’s just like the 50 sites in Europe. There are also other businesses, obviously we’re in the hospitality industry and there are a few programs that are not in hospitals, they are in commercial businesses or in the hospitality industry.

DEBRA: So, Maxine, your job is a course tutor, what does that involve?

MAXINE: What we do with Project Search is we essentially bring the classroom into the workplace to help the interns to transition smoothly from education into employment. So the Project Search day kind of mirrors a school day pretty much. They start at 9 and we have a 1 hour employability skills lesson where we cover 8 different topics which are set as part of the Project Search curriculum. It includes all different kinds of things like safety in the workplace, team building, social skills, technology, as well as personal skills like money management, grooming, a personal hygiene and healthy things. So it’s a very well rounded curriculum really.

So we study employability skills for an hour and then the students all go off to their different work departments and they’re there for 5 hours a day for the embedded in the workforce here at the Marriott. So they’re learning marketable, layered or cascading skills within that department and also while they’re there as well as learning the work skills, they’re obviously working on their communication skills and being able to work within a team, take direction. Then at the end of the day, they come back to the Project Search room for another half an hour as groups for a final debrief and they talk about their day and how everything’s gone. Were there any problems or issues and again they’re working on their social skills really. It’s bookended in the group room together but then throughout the day, they are totally immersed in the workforce here at the Marriott.

Project Search like continues assessments so every day we will go and visit them in their departments and if they need to be coached with certain things that they’re struggling with then we do that. We also assess their performance and give them feedback all the time about what they are achieving and how they’re doing and what their next steps of progress really. We also ask them to become a bit more self-aware by self-assessing because that’s very important for them be able to know ‘I’m great at this, but I need to improve on something else’ for self-assessment and they also set their own targets. Two targets for each of the rotations that they work in because they work in three different rotations, each one for ten weeks. They move from department to department according to what they choose and the idea is that choosing rotations that will help them to build a CV that’s going to hopefully get them a job and those rotations need to have the skills that are going to help them to get into the kind of work that they’re hoping to get when they finish the program.

DEBRA: Sue, you’re a job coach, so what kind of things do you do as a job coach?

SUE: From the beginning of the program and even though this program is in a hospitality area, the young people that come to the program aren’t necessarily look into working in a hospitality. They just want to go out and get work. So when the program first started, all of us came to the Marriott and we basically learned the jobs first that the young people are going to be doing. So we know the skills that they need to do the job. We then go out during the course of the day and watch the youngster; it may be something like, something really very simple that they’re struggling with. A lot of the time it mix up communication because they’re not used to working in a team and that’s why Maxine does that tutoring in-house is because no matter how good your intentions are and how could you try, you can’t teach work-based learning in a classroom environment. It’s just not possible. You have to be in the workplace. So obviously, Maxine changes her lessons sometimes. We may have a young person who’s struggling with teamwork or personal skills, personal hygiene is one of the favorites because it’s a customer-facing job and we use what they call systematic instruction which is completely different from teaching within an education department. It’s showing as opposed to telling. We show them how to do the job and we continue with that through the whole program. Obviously in the first rotation is going to be the most difficult and they’re going to need the most intensive support. And then as I get to that end of the rotation, we would assume that they’re a lot more competent so therefore don’t need as much help.

But what we also find is quite often somebody will say “I want be a chef” and then they go on their first rotation in the kitchen or somewhere a lot that and think “This isn’t what I want to do at all”. And then you get another youngster who can’t work and say the clock and say “Oh, I’m not gonna like this one” and actually loved it. It gives them the opportunity to try different skills. I don’t know many 16, 17 year olds that actually know what they want to do.

After the youngsters get further into their internship, they start to increase their hours. So if looks like they’re good at specific job, they’ll start adding extra hours on so they then get used to actually work in a full-working day. It’s quite a job to suddenly go from school time, valuing the job and they got “Well, don’t get sub off”. I’m trying to explain those sort of details, how you have to apply for your holiday and about wages and things like that and the absolute outcome which is something we tell our people right from the very beginning is to get in the job.

We only intend for them to be here for a year. At the end of that year, which is where Sam kicks in, we hope to be able to get them in a job. If they don’t get a job straight away, we don’t just say “Okay, see you later”. We carry on supporting them and even when they’re in work, we support them as well. So toward the third rotation, that’s when we start looking for employment.

DEBRA: Sam, you’re a job developer, so far apart from that, what do you do?

SAM: So my main priority is to go and have network with employers, find suitable employers based on what the young person is looking for as well. So by the time the young person has decided “This is what I want to do, this is the area I want to work in”, I start going into that field, looking at that industry/sector, speaking to different employers, explaining to the employer on what Projects Search is about and if they’re interested, that’s when I start moving forward, looking out whether they’ve got vacancies available, making contact with them, and then trying to get the young person to possibly apply for jobs there. So once they start job searching, we give them one to one support through job searching. We support them by going to the interview with the young individual. When I say we, we do it as a team really as well, although I kind of network more with the employers, we do work as a team and actually supported them to kind of go for job, go for actual jobs and go for the interviews. Once they’re gone for an interview, work from there on to see if they are successful in the job and then once they have been offered a job, we then will give them ongoing support. So for the past three months, we try to get them intense support, for example if I’ve got a young person whose been offered a job and he needs to go through his induction period, we try to aim to kind of attend that induction period so we also know what the job involves, and then afterwards really whenever the employer needs support or the young person needs that support, they can contact me and I can go into the process and support the young person. Once we’ve supported for three months, we do have a an organization that will give the ongoing support after that as well.

DEBRA: In terms of employers, how receptive do you find them?

SAM: I mean it really varies to be quite honest. It won’t be just turning up at once outside an employer’s door. Naturally, I will have to keep on knocking at doors, I mean, I will spend days where I will just go and do networking. I’ll kind of turn and tap employers’ doors so no appointments are usually booked and then literally try to see if I could speak to someone. I’ve found it vary; some employers will kind of say “Yes, okay, well why don’t you come back on another day, we’ll book you an appointment.” So I have gone in there again and then spoke to employers. What’s nice is once you’ve got some kind of good companies, big companies, if you go in and speak to other employers, you may say “Okay, well, this employer, I’ve got this employer, they’ll be really great!! They’ve taken on a couple of our interns.” The other employers tend to be more receptive and say “Okay, well, we might be interested”. So it does take time.

SUE: I think the thing is a lot of employers have got a set idea of what a young person with learning difficulties or disabilities entail. And they don’t know how to cope. And sometimes, the employers are very, I guess they’ve got disability awareness, they just don’t know how to deal with the young people. [Yeah] Any by the fact that, they know that they will get that support, and that they can just make a phone call and we could go in. And it may just be something as simple as explaining to the young person something that the employer wants him to know but they don’t know how to word it or how to get that message over. Once an employer is onboard, and they realize the support that’s being offered. They said that more open, don’t you think, than they used to?

MAXINE: Definitely, I think there has been a change of move or shift. Our employers are a lot more open to listening and understanding what the young person’s needs are. I want them to actually help in the community as well and do something.

SUE: And I think also when Maxine does the teaching part of it, actually institute so if you seek the young person for a job and they say “We’re gonna do your induction”, normally they wouldn’t have a clue about any of this but because Maxine has previously done all of this, and we’ve gone through it in the way that the Marriott does it, so they then know so instead of just saying “In real of environment, this is manual handling training”, Maxine could actually show that we’re doing, how it is used and when it is used. Everything that we do is work related. It’s about getting a job.

MAXINE: One of the good things as well about having students together in the morning is that you can teach something and then they could go off into their workplaces, put it into practice and then come back at the end of the day and sometimes I set them mini-assignments like the other day we were learning about staying motivated because one of our guys has kind of beginning to tail off a bit and I’m kind of trying to say how important it is to maintain a good level of motivation if you’re going to maintain your job. And then come back at the end of the day and “How motivated were you today? How did you show that you were well motivated?” So they can learn about it, go off to their departments, try to put into practice or actually be more aware of what’s required of them and then come back and talk about at the end of the day. And going back to the job searching, I think another great thing that we’ve managed to do with some of our interns is arrange for them to do unpaid trials because our guys, they’ve got expressive language problems or things like that or they get a little bit phased by being face to face with someone they don’t know in an interview situation or all of the coaching you’ve done previously for their interview skills kind of drops out at the back of their head on the day of the interview. So we’re asking people to just give them a chance, let them show you what they’re capable of. And that’s actually work quite well for some of our interns who are now in employment but probably on a face to face interview would not have come across very well but then more than capable of doing a great job.

MAXINE: I definitely face that quite often is that employers will have a fear factor as well once you tell them the young person may be autistic or have ADHD, it’s almost like a barriers part and then there’s a fear factor there. And then you almost have to find that balance, kind of open up the possibilities of what that young person is capable of, so I have to really talk to the employer about this and kind of explain to them but when they go for an interview, it’s not sort of they’ll sit there and they’ll answer all your questions. So I speak to them prior to that young person’s interview, so when they are young person does go for their interview, it’s almost like an informal chat with the employer and the young person so that’s quite nice because the employer is aware of the young person’s needs so it’s kind of obvious that barrier breaks as well when it’s something not formal chat but we have had unpaid trials in an employer’s where they’ve actually done weeks trial, the young person’s being able to do the job itself. They’ve had all that practical experience and at the end of the day, the employers got to see what the young person is capable of rather than just spacing out on their interviews.

SUE: But I think sometimes the young people are their worst enemy. They will have in their mind why they can’t do certain things but it’s teaching them how to deal with this sort of thing and to bring the parents onboard. Part of Project Search is that we very very much include the parent because they can offer enough support as well. Without that support, it’s not possible to do what we’re trying to do.

DEBRA: In terms of when they first survive with you, what are the biggest challenges that they seem to have?

SUE: They’ve probably been at school for 6 or 7 years.

SAM: It has changed dramatically from school or college to again workplace environment.

MAXINE: It’s really more about the soft skills though, I think. It’s more about behavior, personal hygiene and grooming, being mature. It’s really like the soft skills. And also, if they really struggle with English or Math, once they get a job, that’s a struggle still so it’s not gone away. They still will struggle with English or Math or they might be able to tell the time very well. When they do have a job, employers will come back and say “This young person can’t read this kind of information. How are we going to support them?” And that’s when we have to still give that continued support and I think employers really appreciate that a lot because we’ve always had employers who just pick up the phone, “Can you attend a meeting? Come in and help”. So we do, we go in and we will support in that way as well.

SUE: There are all things that parents don’t know about, young people with special needs that are getting employment through the DWP department, there’s a thing called Access to Work. Once the young person gets a job, if there’s anything specific that that person needs, whether it be support from a job coach, anything at all that is needed for that young person to keep that employment, so to make that employment sustainable you could claim on this Access to Work. And a lot of parents don’t understand that it’s there. They don’t know it’s there. These young people are actually capable. We’ve got one young girl who did house and social care in college. She did level one and the college basically said “Her English and Math are so bad that she’s never gonna progress past that.” So she came here, she learned all sorts of skills here, we got her a job in a care home and then with support, she did the extra unit she needed to do and she’s now fully working now for years.

MAXINE: And we’ve actually got quite diverse jobs, haven’t we? [We have. Yes, we have for our interns].

SAM: We’re quite pleased with that with the kind of employers we have got, a diverse range of employers and we really tend to make sure that we are matching the young person to the job as well. So based on the kind of roles in the three different departments they’ve worked in the hotel, we aim to kind of really match that job based on that. And the other thing we’re quite pleased about on our program is the fact that we’ve managed to actually get jobs that are not so part-time. All our jobs are actually 20 hours and above. We’ve got young people that are actually working 40 hours, permanent contracts for 40 hours.

SUE: We’ve come up with quite few barriers to be honest when we first started the program. Some of those barriers were about parents because parents were very concerned or what if it happens if I get a job and then after six months they can’t cope with it but it’s the self-esteem. When you’re going to see these young people, it completely changes them and we merely have any negative feedback. Every way you go to discuss that these young people or just to check up on them see how they go, everybody’s “Oh he’s brilliant, it’s amazing to see how different they can become”.

MAXINE: And even when once they’ve completed their program, if they haven’t received a job or they haven’t managed to get job, we still give that support. So it’s not like we’ve kind of they’ve finished the program, they have a got a job since the program has been completed. We’re not saying “Oh, goodbye!”. We say, “Okay, we’re going to still continue”. We arrange to seeing them and we will do job searching with them continuously and still support them until they get a job.

DEBRA: What does the Marriott benefit from this program?

MAXINE: From our knowledge, the hotel staff absolutely loves having our interns working with them and they feel it really has changed the culture within the workforce here at The Marriott. They have embraced their interns so it’s kind of a win-win situation, really! Everybody wins which is brilliant! They’ve actually just won a world wide price from Marriott and partly there are plans now in the USA to run the program out to all their other hotels. Even I think that the people here just see to really embrace our guys and so it’s good for the students’ self-esteem because they really feel that they are accepted.

DEBRA: Let’s go back to that, when you said about soft skills, what can parents be doing to develop some of those soft skills?

SAM: One of the things that we’ve issues with in the past has been personal hygiene and grooming. I mean, obviously, in a hotel there’s a code of conduct that the interns are expected to follow and then they’ve their own grooming rules so that’s something that some of our young men, more than the young ladies, have struggled with in the past. There’s also about time-keeping and attendance. We’ve had students in the past had been a bit unreliable. Don’t want to get our beds, you know, turning up late, obviously if they’re in a workplace, they would have been you know had a disciplinary and probably been out of the door. But we try to work with them and explain to them “You can’t do that.” and try to get them to toe the line and do what’s expected of them so I’d say time-keeping, attendance because no one wants to be paying a wage to someone that’s not there.

Social skills, being able to communicate with people, appropriately. A lot of thing that’s always quite an issue with some of our students is mobile phones. Maybe parents could also explain to their children, you know, like “When once you’re at work, you can’t be on your phone every 5 minutes checking your Facebook or whatever”. Some of them use it for the time because they’ve struggled with analog clocks and so they’ve got a digital time on their phones and so “Yeah, if you need to take your phone out to check the time.”

Another thing that we train our students with towards independence is during some holiday, Sam will meet with them and travel train them so that they know how to travel here safely on public transport. So that’s another thing maybe that parents could do. Make sure that their young person is able to sort of travel independently. Just helping them to understand that when you’re at work, you’ve got to be responsible for yourself.

MAXINE: Also, on the other hand, we do have parents that actually when the young person has got a job, could really be doing well but they want to find out from the employer a progress; what is their young person doing, how are they progressing. Employers don’t want to talk to the parents about what their adult is doing at work. They basically have to talk it through the young person themselves. I’ve had parents contacted me and say “Oh the employer’s not really talking to me, they’re not telling me on how my child is doing at work.” Employers don’t feel it’s appropriate. They feel “This person is employed, we deal with their individual.”

SAM: We talk with the parents a lot and what they’ve commented on what was when their young person got into work suddenly they had nothing. But I think you can probably usually assume that no news is good news. You know, it’s really about letting go. They did fine!

DEBRA: Thank you very much Maxine, [Thank you], thank you, Sue [Thank you], and Sam [Thank you very much].

DEBRA: Key takeaways? The importance of work-based learning, having a more strategic approach to having a job developer, providing employers with more support, at least in the beginning. It goes without saying we need more programs like this and hopefully by sharing the success of this program, more organizations will see that employing young people with additional needs isn’t as difficult as they think it will be.

UK Access to Work Website

Please subscribe to this podcast and if you have a story you would like to share I would love to hear from you just email

Please Review Us On iTunes

If you liked this podcast and would like to help us, please do the 1, 2, 3:
(1) Click Review on iTunes (2) Click ‘View in Itunes’; and (3) Click on ‘Ratings and Reviews’ (just to the right of ‘Details’) and leave a review.