Celebrating all abilities, Project SEARCH makes employment dreams possible


Since 2016, Banner Health has partnered
with Project SEARCH to provide internships
to young adults with developmental
disabilities in Tucson.

Alex* has dreamed of having his own job ever since high school. Getting ready in the morning. Being part of a team. Learning, then contributing his skills to an organization. Because of his autism, Alex doesn’t have the same opportunities to land that dream job as others. But, Project SEARCH opened the door for him and now he is working toward employment as an intern at Banner Health.

Roughly two-thirds of individuals with disabilities have a desire to work, yet in Arizona, only 16% of individuals with developmental disabilities have a paying job. Developmental disabilities include autism, intellectual, or learning disabilities. Without meaningful employment opportunities, individuals with disabilities find themselves disproportionately impacted by poverty. Since 2016, Banner Health has partnered with Project SEARCH to provide internships to young adults with developmental disabilities in Tucson. An internationally recognized, evidence-based employment training program, Project SEARCH is hosted at 617 sites across 48 states and 10 countries.

For the 2020-2021 school year, Banner launched the program at Banner Gateway Medical Center and Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, both located in Gilbert, Arizona, in collaboration with Gilbert Public Schools, Sonoran UCEDD and the Arizona Department of Economic Security’s Vocational Rehabilitation. With Project SEARCH firmly established at Banner and administered by its Diversity/Inclusion & Talent Pipeline team, plans are underway to bring these opportunities to students in Colorado and Wyoming, folding in two additional markets of Banner Health’s six-state service reach – thanks, in large part, to generous grants from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, the Maricopa County Industrial Development Authority and CopperPoint Insurance Companies.

“The impact of charitable gifts and how they enable us to grow is priceless for our student interns,” explains Jackie Hunter, who leads Banner’s Diversity/Inclusion & Talent Pipeline team. “Our goal is to remove stereotypes regarding people with disability/differently abled, because they bring a unique and diverse skillset that makes Banner a great place to work.”

Each intern rotates through various Banner departments, including information technology, culinary, housekeeping and sterile processing during this nine-month program that provides individualized, on-the-job training for students supplemented by daily classroom instruction and job coaching. In each rotation, participants explore a variety of job roles, obtain new career skills, and build upon interpersonal relationships. Not only is Banner prepared to support the training of these participants, but also hopes to extend employment upon the completion of the program.

In collaboration with the national Project SEARCH team, Banner is working to tackle the lack of post-graduation opportunities for these students by building up their competitive, transferable, and marketable job skills. In doing so, interns will develop a stronger sense of independence, confidence, and self-esteem, resulting in an increased ability to make effective workplace decisions.

Banner Health proactively seeks to transform attitudes about hiring people with disabilities and the range of jobs in which they can be successful by highlighting the exemplary work that these interns accomplish during their program, paving the way for others with disabilities to find employment in the future.

As schools began virtual learning, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Banner worked hard to ensure that Project SEARCH students, although remote, had access to Banner Health culture and workplace. Banner’s team created presentations, which include an introduction to Banner, outlining our mission, vision, values, culture, and expectations; expectations regarding dress and COVID-19 precautions; and most importantly, the operations of the Environmental Services and Culinary departments, allowing for the students to begin familiarization with the departments in which they would be training. These presentations shared videos, terminology, scenarios and exercises that the students would be able to deploy within their space.

Ultimately, Project SEARCH aims to welcome and support individuals with developmental disabilities in employment roles that match their talents, enabling them to contribute to our Banner Health community and grow professionally through paid work. The expansion of the project helps advance one of our 2020 initiatives focused on inclusion in our hiring practices and fostering an inclusive culture throughout our facilities. In turn this supports Banner Health’s mission to make health care easier, so life can be better.

*Name changed to protect participant privacy