Tennessee Department of Human Services Celebrates 10th Anniversary for Project SEARCH Program in Nashville and Participant Success

With 17 program sites across Tennessee and over 700 graduates to date, the Project SEARCH program offers transition services to high school students and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to help them into employment through hands-on training and internships.
Thursday, August 24, 2023 | 10:59am

NASHVILLE, TN –  With Tennessee currently ranked among the top five states within the U.S. in recognition to the Project SEARCH graduation outcome, securing a 97% post-graduation employment rate with wages at a minimum of $12/hour and working an average of 26+ hours/week, the Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) Division of Rehabilitation Services today announced ongoing opportunities for employers and students to participate in the nationally acclaimed Project SEARCH model, which offers transition services to high school students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to help them into employment through hands-on training and internships. TDHS Rehabilitation Services is diligently working to increase the reach of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Services and connect more Tennesseans with disabilities to employment and educational opportunities by forging new community partnerships.

Vocational Rehabilitation Services are available to Tennesseans with disabilities who desire a job that is integrated and at fair wages consistent with their strengths, capabilities, and interests. Within the VR services umbrella are programs like Project SEARCH, Transition School-to-Work Services, Business Employment Services, and individualized services to connect people with disabilities to work opportunities in their local community.

The Project SEARCH Program is a one-year employment preparation program that takes place entirely at the workplace, with a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and hands-on training through worksite rotations. The program culminates in individualized job development, offering high school students between ages 17-22, and adults beyond high school, with intellectual and developmental disabilities unique opportunities to practice communication skills, receive support from skilled job trainers, and to gain employment in their communities using the skills they learned after the program concludes.

“With over 700 graduates to date and an above average employment rate, this speaks volumes to the success of the graduates from Project SEARCH and the opportunities that are made available through this program,” commented Blake Shearer, TDHS Transition Director. “These students are gaining marketable skills, hands-on experience, and the confidence needed to succeed in competitive employment. We are thrilled to have Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital as one of our first Project SEARCH partners and our goal for our next decade is to find more organizations committed to providing pre-employment internships to students with disabilities. By working together, we can all help these students reach their employment goals and contribute to their communities."

“The Rehabilitation Services Division is dedicated to helping students with disabilities across the state find employment success, wellness, and independence by offering Pre- Employment Transition Services,” commented Kevin Wright, Assistant Commissioner for TDHS Rehabilitation Services. “High school presents an ideal opportunity for students to learn essential skills such as job acquisition, retention, and making informed choices regarding higher education or advanced training. Project SEARCH is one of the programs designed to address critical gaps in the workforce and it is our hope to connect more Tennesseans to these available resources.”

Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) is delivered collaboratively between participating high schools and Vocational Rehabilitation Services for TDHS. Students with disabilities that are enrolled in pre-employment transition services and adults in vocational rehabilitation are introduced to Project SEARCH according to their individual development plans.  Pre-ETS is the first level of vocational rehabilitation services students can receive and is aimed to prepare students with disabilities for higher education, work, and independent living. The goal is to equip students with disabilities for a successful life after high school. 

For more information about Project SEARCH or VR opportunities within your region of the state, please visit the Tennessee Department of Human Services website here.

To learn more about how to become an employee transition program host site for Project SEARCH, please contact Transition Services hotline by phone at 1-800-270-1349 or email VR.TransitionServices@tn.gov to discuss the application process and requirements.



Project SEARCH® is a nationally acclaimed model for transitioning students with intellectual and developmental disabilities from high school into employment through internships at community businesses. In 2013, the Council on Developmental Disabilities convened a team of lead state agencies to develop a plan to create Project SEARCH® sites across the state. In 2014, the Tennessee Department of Human Services,  Division of  Rehabilitation Services adopted the day to day management of the Project SEARCH® initiative in Tennessee, with the Council on Developmental Disabilities continued its facilitation role of the Statewide Leadership Team. This initiative continues to be a partnership with the TDHS Division of Rehabilitation Services, Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and the Tennessee Department of Education. For more information about the Project SEARCH® model, visit http://www.projectsearch.us/.


The Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) consists of multiple divisions with a unified mission to build strong families by connecting Tennesseans to employment, education, and supportive services. Led by governor-appointed Commissioner Clarence H. Carter, TDHS serves nearly two million Tennesseans to ensure that all state residents have an opportunity to reach their full potential as contributing members of their community. Among the many services and programs provided by TDHS, some of the leading programs include the Child Support Program, Child and Adult Day Services and Licensing, Families First (the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Rehabilitation Services for people with disabilities, and Adult Protective Services, along with many others. TDHS is an organization committed to connecting people to resources that help individuals, families and communities thrive towards long-term economic freedom and prosperity. For more information, please visit: Tennessee Department of Human Services.

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