Project SEARCH – Wisconsin

Information copied with permission on March, 2018:

For more information:  (715)234-1912

General Information

Project SEARCH was developed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, a research environment that fosters visionary thinking and innovation. It all began in 1996, when Erin Riehle was Director of Cincinnati Children’s Emergency Department. Erin felt that, because the hospital served individuals with developmental disabilities, it made sense that they should commit to hiring people in this group. She wondered if it would be possible to train people with developmental disabilities to fill some of the high-turnover, entry level positions in her department, which involved complex and systematic tasks such as stocking supply cabinets. As a starting point, Erin presented her ideas to Susie Rutkowski, then the special education director at Great Oaks Career Campuses. Erin and Susie formed a partnership that was instantaneous, and together they launched Project SEARCH.

Project SEARCH National Website

Project SEARCH is a business led collaboration that enables young adults with disabilities to gain and maintain employment through training and career exploration. A 9-12 month program, Project SEARCH provides total immersion in a large community business. Students with disabilities are offered a workforce alternative for their last year of high school. All participants must be eligible for services with the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). At some sites, young adults who have completed high school may be eligible to participate in Project SEARCH.

The Project SEARCH partnership includes a local high status business, a school, DVR, a vocational services agency and a disability services agency, such as a managed care organization. The business provides an on-site training classroom, business liaison and rotational internships for on the job training. The school provides an instructor. (Rice Lake’s Project SEARCH instructor is provided by Ventures Unlimited, 110 N Industrial Drive, Shell Lake, WI 54871. (715) 468-2939) DVR works with a local vocational services agency to supply job coaches who support students in their internships as needed and assist with final job placement. The disability services agency provides follow along services for any eligible student who is hired at the business site or in the community.

Each day, students report to the host business, learn employability skills in the classroom and job skills through their internships (usually 3-4 internships during the year). Students are encouraged to use public transportation when available, just as they would when employed after high school. Students and their teams meet monthly for progress reports and to continually refine their career goals and determine concrete next steps. Managers from the host business work with the teacher and job coaches to support the students every step of the way, with an ultimate goal upon program completion being the students’ competitive placements at the host business or in the community, based on the skills and experience learned in their Project SEARCH experiences.

Project SEARCH sites must be licensed by the flagship business, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and must comply with standards of model fidelity (trademarked and copyrighted). Technical assistance is provided by the founders of Project SEARCH to ensure consistency in approach and data collection for this evidenced based program.


Wednesday January 24, 2018

Governor Walker highlighted an intern during his State of the State Address! Check out the excerpt and photos below:

Excerpt from the Governor’s Speech:

“Today, according to the Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, we rank in the top ten states for hiring people with disabilities. That is good news for people like Marcus. He was one of the first interns in Project SEARCH at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. After graduation, Marcus was hired full-time by the hospital. Project SEARCH is a program that helps high school aged students with disabilities prepare to enter the workforce. The success rate for Project SEARCH in Wisconsin is 88 percent which makes it one of the best in the country. Eight years ago, there was just one program site in the state. When school starts in the fall, there will be 27.”

Governor Walker with Project SEARCH intern Marcus

2017 NDEAM Awards

October 11, 2017 (Wednesday)

  • ProHealth Care Waukesha Memorial Hospital receiving an Exemplary Employer Award signed by Governor Walker

October 12, 2017 (Thursday)

  • The UW Hospital & VA Hospital in Madison receiving the Employer of the Year Award from DCDT
  • Ascension Mercy Hospital Project SEARCH in Oshkosh receiving an Exemplary Employer Award signed by Governor Walker
  • Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee receiving an Exemplary Employer Award signed by Governor Walker

October 27, 2017 (Friday)

  • Kalahari Resort and Convention Center in Wisconsin Dells receiving an Exemplary Employer Award signed by Governor Walker

2017 Achievements

100% Employment

  • Aspirus Riverview Hospital Clinics, Inc. –Wisconsin Rapids, WI
  • Kalahari Resort—Wisconsin Dells, WI
  • Marshfield Medical Center (Formerly known as Ministry St. Joseph’s Hospital)—Marshfield, WI

80 – 89% Employment

  • Bellin Health/St. Vincent Hospital—Green Bay, WI
  • Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, WI
  • Sauk Prairie Healthcare—Prairie du Sac, WI
  • St. Elizabeth Hospital—Appleton, WI
  • UW Hospital/William S. Middleton VA Hospital—Madison, WI
  • Wal-Mart Distribution Center 6025—Menomonie, WI

70 – 79% Employment

  • Waukesha Memorial (ProHealth Care)—Waukesha, WI
  • River Falls Area Hospital—River Falls, WI


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