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Project SEARCH helps local people with disabilities find career success

Project SEARCH helps local people with disabilities find career success (Project SEARCH)
Project SEARCH helps local people with disabilities find career success (Project SEARCH)
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CINCINNATI (WKRC) – United States Department of Labor statistics shows a positive side effect of the pandemic when it comes to employment opportunities for people with disabilities, but it turns out, those opportunities were on the rise before the pandemic.

“The unemployment rate for those with disabilities has been cut in half since 2021,” said executive director of the Alpaugh Family Economics Center at the University of Cincinnati Dr. David Mahon.

Dr. Mahon says that’s largely because of the work-from-home approach more companies are taking. It means the job market is wide open.

"Remote options, especially if the reason you couldn’t get to work is a mobility issue, all of a sudden, you’re back in the game," said Dr. Mahon.

Putting people with disabilities in the game is the mission of Project SEARCH.

"Today, we have 730 plus programs in 10 different countries and 48 states,” said Project SEARCH cofounder and educational specialist Susie Rutkowski.

Project SEARCH began as a way to help patients at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center find success after leaving treatment.

Now, the programs educate and train people ages 18-21, and then help find them work at Children's, among other places.

"We have fabulous positions, and people have held those jobs for 10 years, 15 years, 20 years,” Rutkowski said.

But if a hospital setting isn't the right fit, employers like Fifth Third Bank are ready, too.

"We have had tremendous success training almost 400 young people with disabilities since 2006,” said Fifth Third Bank VP and senior manger of inclusion and diversity Mitch Morgan.

Fifth Third Bank has been a partner of Project SEARCH for 17 years. Morgan says interns are placed in jobs both in Cincinnati and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Through the internship, students learn skills and build on them while establishing a career path.

They are doing the work here that we need to continue our business,” said Morgan. “So, this is a real-world integrated setting that moves into some of those jobs and opportunities.

Josh Weber is one of those interns that has turned his training into a career.

"I pretty much like everything about my job, including the people I work with,” said Weber.

Weber's job is to process payments at Fifth Third’s Madisonville Operations Center.

If I hadn’t come through Project SEARCH, I wouldn’t be where I am right now," he said. "I love it here.
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Xavier University is also a partner, as is Great Oaks Career Campuses.

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