West-Mec and Project Search help young adults enter the job market

West-Mec is a paid sponsor of Sonoran Living

The mission of the SEARCH project is to prepare young people with significant disabilities to succeed in competitive integrated employment. People with disabilities are disproportionately unemployed or underemployed compared to their peers without disabilities.

The Western Maricopa Education Center (West-MEC) Project SEARCH is for adults ages 18-28 who live with a disability that is a barrier to employment.

“The SEARCH Project is an internationally recognized bridging program that prepares youth and young adults with disabilities for the reality of competitive employment after high school,” said Heather Wolff, Employment Initiatives Coordinator for the Arizona and coordinator of the SEARCH Arizona project.

West-MEC has two Project SEARCH sites active this school year, one at the Renaissance Hotel in Glendale and the other at SanMar Distribution in Avondale. The West-MEC SEARCH project also operates at a site at Luke Air Force Base which opened in 2018 but is on hiatus for 2022-23 and will return next school year.

Each year, 10-15% of the total number of students enrolled at West-MEC are made up of students with disabilities.

“West-MEC aims to empower students to participate fully in the economy by providing higher vocational and technical education to all,” said Shelly Thome, Project SEARCH Director at West-MEC.

West-MEC’s ​​program offers a 9-month unpaid internship where students work directly with employers at the host site to learn professional, technical and transferable skills. The internship program includes communication, self-advocacy, workplace professionalism, resume writing, and interview practice.

“Interns learn from Project SEARCH’s employability program combined with a company-led internship to learn the hard and soft skills needed to successfully find and keep a job,” Wolff said.

Of West-MEC’s ​​23 Project SEARCH interns in 2021-22, 19 are already employed within the community. Employment settings include retail, restaurant, hospitality, grocery, etc.

West-MEC believes that every student harbors unique potential, and its innovative programs aim to bring it out. West-MEC prepares students for a bright future with industry-standard equipment, experienced instructors, and leadership opportunities, and its Project SEARCH sites are prime examples.

“Our Project SEARCH program is important because every person deserves to live a full life in their community, with the same opportunities for education and work as everyone else. Our program gives our students the tools to do just that,” Thome said. Call 623-738-0022 or visit west-mec.edu

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