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Job opportunities for students with learning
difficulties higher in Norfolk

Norfolk students with learning difficulties are more likely to find employment opportunities than in other parts of the country, thanks to a project supported by a number of local organisations.

Nationally the employment rate for people with learning difficulties is only around 6%, but in Norfolk the conversion rate for those joining the scheme to finding jobs is 56%, a real encouragement for employment prospects in the county.

‘Project Search’, an Office for Disability Issues initiative, encourages local employers to help students with learning difficulties make the transition from education to the work environment.

Students are placed with local employers for a year, working in three different areas of the organisation for four months in each role.

During this time they also continue with education aimed at developing their work skills, under programmes specifically designed by education establishments in partnership with the employers.

These formal classroom sessions are held on the employer’s premises, “in this way they become totally immersed in the workplace environment and culture,” commented Andrew Plunkett, Field Manager for Project Search at employment services provider Remploy.

Since Project Search was first introduced into Norfolk, in 2008, 98 students have successfully completed work placements, with 55 finding employment opportunities.

There are four local organisations in Norfolk who offer Project Search placements, Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital (through NNUH directly and employer partner Serco) Norse Commercial Services, James Paget University Hospital in Great Yarmouth and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn. “We’d love to have other employers to come forward to work with us to get jobs for these students,” Andrew Plunkett said. “We’ve got some really keen and able young people who, with the right help and motivation, can make a real contribution to local employers.”

The students come from local education establishments, City College Norwich, Great Yarmouth College and the College of West Anglia, who also continue their involvement by delivering the workplace-based classroom learning.

Norse Human Resources Director Tricia Fuller, an early and enthusiastic supporter of Project Search, says the initiative can completely change the lives of its students.

“In 2011,” she says, “an ex-Project Search student with Asperger’s talked to the company’s 2011 Annual General Meeting about the barriers that learning difficulties present to getting a job, a truly remarkable achievement given his background.”

24-year-old Carl Nicholls stepped up onto the stage in front of 140 managers and stakeholders attending the Meeting and talked about what he had previously studied at college, and how he desperately wanted to get a job.

“He spoke openly about his learning disabilities, the barriers these presented to finding employment, and how his time on Project Search helped prepare him,” Fuller commented. “He told how his time on Project Search helped him to develop confidence to talk to people, and ultimately was the key to getting a job. His self-assurance was inspiring and moving for everyone there.”

One of the first students taken on by Norse under Project Search, Carl was offered full time employment in an administrative role within the Transport Division of the company in July 2010.

Any local employer interested in finding out more about Project Search and placement opportunities should contact Andrew Plunkett on 07903 738750 or email him at



Another Great Year for Project SEARCH

July 8, 2011 was a special day for 10 young people in Norfolk as their success in taking part in an innovative work-based learning course was marked with a graduation ceremony.

For those of you new to the organisation or who are not familiar with the project, Project SEARCH is a government-funded scheme that aims to get young peopled aged 18 to 24 with learning difficulties to work.

It sees an employer team up with a college to run a year-long course that provides a mixture of work placements and classroom learning, which all takes place within the workplace. This is the second year that Norse has participated in the project – with successful results.

The students, who carried out three workplace rotations during the academic year, gained invaluable experience and transferrable skills within departments including Bus Maintenance, Payroll, Human Resources, General Administration, Catering and Community Equipment Services.

At the graduation ceremony at Head Office, Fifers Lane, the 10 students were presented with a certificate and commemorative watch by Paul Bonham, Commercial Director, Transport Division, in front of an audience of family members, carers, mentors, managers and other Norse employees.

Our thanks go out to all staff who have helped, and continue to help, make this project a huge success. Our congratulations to Sarah who has since secured employment at the Ramada Jarvis Hotel. We wish the other students every success in securing future employment.



Norse and Project SEARCH

As Norse approaches its third year as a placement provider for Project SEARCH, we thought it would be interesting to find out what happens to students once they have graduated.

Many of our students have gone on to find employment after their Project SEARCH experience and we’re delighted that we are able to employ some of them directly after their graduation. Such is the case with Carl Nicholls – a graduate of Norse’s first intake of students in 2009 who is now employed full-time as fleet administrator within our Transport Division.

Carl, like several of the students enrolled in Project SEARCH, has Asperger’s Syndrome. He began his programme in September 2009 and graduated in the summer of 2010. Such was Carl’s performance during his three placements within Norse’s administrative headquarters in Norwich that it seemed a natural progression for him to remain with the business in full-time employment.

Tina Higlett, Carl’s mentor during his Project SEARCH placement and now his line manager, says that bringing him into the transport admin team has not only freed up capacity for other members of the team but also given Carl an opportunity he richly deserved.

“It was clear during his placement that Carl was very capable, with excellent IT skills, and we knew that there was a job role for him within the team once this came to an end,” says Tina. “What was really important was identifying the particular tasks that Carl could carry out – tasks that require a real attention to detail but are part of a routine – to utilise his skills and allow him to be as independent as possible.”

Carl’s role encompasses a wide range of tasks, including sorting post, filing, maintaining vehicle servicing and MOT records, and recording vehicle mileages at service intervals. Always looking to develop Carl’s role, Tina suggested he manage the division’s purchase ledger. Having woven this into Carl’s routine, he is now responsible for coding and inputting incoming invoices for the whole Transport Division.

A significant indication of Carl’s development is his willingness to answer the busy phones in the office. “We couldn’t have imagined Carl doing that when he first began with us,” says Tina, “but now he has the confidence to answer the phone and knows who to direct calls to when they come in; he is a real part of the team.”

Carl himself readily acknowledges the role that Project SEARCH has played in helping him into employment. “I wouldn’t have been able to step into this job without the time spent on placement through Project SEARCH,” says Carl. “It not only gave me lots of knowledge of the business but also a great deal of confidence.”

When asked whether he is enjoying his job, the answer is a resounding “yes”, with Carl appreciative of the support that the Norse transport team have given him.

“I’ve definitely gained in confidence as the year has gone on and a big part of this has been the faith Tina and Paul (Bonham, Commercial Director for Transport) have shown in me through developing my role and giving me more responsibility.”

Carl’s experience not only displays his own dedication and ability but also Norse’s commitment to providing both placements for the duration of the Project Search programme and genuine employment opportunities for its graduates.

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