Aberdeen is committed to creating chances for the community.

Economic Transformation in our Nation

Universities have a strong culture of delivery which aligns closely with the Scottish Government’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation. We’ve curated a set of 19 stories to show how universities support people, businesses, industries and Scotland’s regions towards economic transformation.

Career support for those with additional learning needs

Owen Griffin, aged 23, has progressed from apprentice to master following his participation in Project SEARCH, an employment programme for young people with a learning disability and autism or both, which has been running at the University of Aberdeen since 2013.

Each year it offers internships to up to 12 young people aged 16-24 who are supported to undertake work placements within the University and with partner organisations, covering a range of roles while studying towards the City & Guilds Certificate in Employability Skills. Upon graduation, Interns receive support to enter paid employment.

Owen came to Project SEARCH directly from school and the results of his involvement have been transformative. Working in various roles, Owen built up his skills and confidence before securing a position as a full time Grounds Person at the University.

Now, Owen is acting as a mentor to another Project SEARCH graduate who has secured an apprentice Grounds Person role, helping them make the same transition to full time employment.

Owen says:

“Project SEARCH prepared me for work by teaching me how to behave in employment, work as part of a team and improved my general attitude towards work. Before Project SEARCH, I was shy and hesitant but it gave me the confidence to introduce myself and to learn new skills – I now have the confidence to express myself and to go for it.”

Project SEARCH is a one-year programme with three workplace rotations. The programme provides on-the-job coaching and there is a supported nine-month transition into employment. Alongside the placements, which build up around 800 hours of work experience, the interns also spend time in the classroom learning valuable skills including confidence-building activities like presenting to the class, working in groups and gaining training in food hygiene, health and safety, manual handling and first aid.

The nature of the internships and the core curriculum delivered as part of Project SEARCH have been tailored to meet the needs of the local business community following discussion and engagement with employers. This ensures that upon graduation, the Interns are ready to undertake roles in areas of recognised skill shortages and those where it has proven difficult to recruit and/or retain staff.

Since launching in September 2013, an average of 68% of graduates from the University have moved into employment across the north-east of Scotland, around 10 times the average employment rate for those with a learning disability who do not enter a post-school programme. In October 2022, the programme received national recognition, being awarded two DFN Project SEARCH Outcomes Awards in recognition of its employment rates which were in the top 10% of the 120 project sites across the UK, Ireland and Iberia in Session 2020/21.

The programme operates on a partnership basis involving several organisations, including Values Into Action Scotland (VIAS) and North East Scotland College. Interns also receive support from various other partner organisations, including Skills Development Scotland, the Department for Work & Pensions, and the Aberdeenshire Council Employability team.

Key Points:

National Strategy for Economic Transformation theme: Fairer and more equal society

Institution: University of Aberdeen

Location: Aberdeen

  • Rated on employment outcomes for its Interns, Aberdeen is in the top 10% of 120 ‘s Project SEARCH sites across the UK, Ireland & Iberia