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Project SEARCH

Project Search Logo

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

Wisconsin Project Search

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. 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.

Fee Schedule

Statewide Meeting Schedule

Date(s) Location Time
Thursday May 9, 2019 Milwaukee County Zoo – Peck Welcome Center
10001 W. Bluemound Road
Milwaukee, WI 53226
July 29, 2019-August 2, 2019 Project Search 2019 National Conference Anaheim, CA
Tuesday October 15, 2019 Mayo Clinic
1221 Whipple Street
Eau Claire, WI 54703
Tuesday February 11, 2020 Aspirus Riverview Hospital and Clinics
410 Dewey Street
Wisconsin Rapids, WI 54494

Technical Assistance (TA) Training Schedule

2018 TA Training Schedule TBD. Please check back for updates.

Project SEARCH Materials

The information included in the above link is for licensed Project SEARCH Teams only. You must be a registered WIEXT users to access the site. You can become a registered WIEXT user by following the directions below.

If you are not a Service Provider and are requesting access, please follow the following steps. Statewide Service Providers should already have a registered WIEXT account they can use for access and may skip to step 3:

  1. Go to the DWD/Wisconsin Logon Management System and select the "Logon Creation" link under "Sign Up for your DWD/Wisconsin Logon". Follow the steps provided on at that site.
  2. Once your logon is created, click on the "Project SEARCH Materials" link above and select "Request access" in the "Error: Access Denied" dialog box.
  3. Your request for access will go through the process of approval. If you are not directly associated with a licensed Project SEARCH team in Wisconsin, your access will be automatically denied without notice.

Licensed Project SEARCH teams will have view/print only access to materials such as agendas, training PPTs, handouts, directory, etc.


November 28, 2018

Marshfield Clinic Health Systems in Marshfield, WI received America's Job Honors Award, in a packed house at the Monona Terrace in Madison, for their continued work with Project SEARCH and for hiring people with disabilities. A video is available highlighting the event at America's Job Honor Awards website.

October 25, 2018

The Department of Workforce Development received the 2018 Program Achievement Award at the Capitol, from the State Council of Affirmative Action (SCAA) and the Department of Administration Division of Personnel Management, for their work on Project SEARCH.

WI DVR accepts 2018 Program Achievement Award

October 23, 2018

Project SEARCH Aspirus (Wausau), a brand new site that started this Fall, was featured on their local Channel 7 news.

October 16, 2018

Mercyhealth in Janesville, WI held a Ribbon Cutting event for their new Project SEARCH program which started in September 2018. WKOW TV and the Gazette featured it as a top story! Links below:

Project SEARCH National Conference

This year's Project SEARCH National Conference was held on July 31, 2018-August 3, 2018 at the Westin Golf Resort & Spa in Savannah, GA. Wisconsin received 8 awards in the following employment categories:

100% Employment

80 - 89% Employment

70 - 79% Employment

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

A successful outcome is defined as competitive employment in an integrated setting, year-round, 16+ hours/week, and receiving a prevailing wage or higher.

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