Young people with learning disabilities and autism have been learning vital skills for work thanks to an on-the-job training scheme at North Devon District Hospital.

The 10 students who completed this year�s Projet SEARCH programme had their achievements recognised at a special awards ceremony.The 10 students who completed this year�s Projet SEARCH programme had their achievements recognised at a special awards ceremony.

The 10 students who completed this year's Projet SEARCH programme had their achievements recognised at a special awards ceremony on Thursday, July 4.

The programme is a one-year internship which helps 18 to 24-year-old students with a learning disability or autism into employment.

The students complete three 10-week placements at the hospital and receive training, giving them work experience, developing their life skills and building their confidence and independence.

The scheme was launched by Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, Sodexo, Petroc and Pluss in 2013, in which time 50 interns have completed the programme, with 39 gaining employment.

Dave Bridges, Project SEARCH instructor for Petroc, said: "This is such an amazing project, which gives young people with a learning disability or autism excellent, supported workplace placements within a busy hospital setting.

"The NHS and Sodexo teams that have provided placements have all been fantastic and have all shared in the positive experience of Project SEARCH, with many saying how they would like to keep on the interns.

"The feedback from interns, parents, staff and patients has been overwhelmingly positive and, combined with the fantastic achievements so far, prove what a fantastic opportunity Project SEARCH is for all involved."

This year's graduates spoke about their experiences at the awards ceremony.

Tommy Robertson, who is now working for Sodexo, described it as his 'most exciting journey'.

Alex Moore, who has joined the NDHT's bank and is picking up flexible shifts in pharmacy, said: "Whatever the future holds, I'll be ready to face it. Project SEARCH has helped me achieve my dream."

Jane Hanson, vice principal of Petroc, and Marise Mackie, head of employment for Devon and Cornwall at Pluss, presented the graduates with their certificates at the awards ceremony, which was attended by the students' friends and families, past graduates and staff from NDHT, Petroc and Pluss.