Emmitt: How hard work turned an unpaid internship into a paid job



Emmitt is a man in his mid-20s from Indiana. He describes himself as loving, caring, and good at teamwork. Outside of work, he likes to read and participate in the Best Buddies program.

Emmitt currently works as a rehabilitation technician. He transports patients to their physical and occupational therapy appointments, and helps them with exercises to recover from injuries or strokes. Because Emmitt showed such interest in this work and such dedication to doing it well, he was able to turn an unpaid internship into a paid full-time job.

What's important:

Emmitt, wearing scrubs and an ID badge, holds a piece of paper with both hands and looks towards the camera on his left.Two years ago, when Emmitt was in high school, he talked to one of his teachers about finding a job where he could work as part of a team. He also said that he wanted to do work that helped people. Emmitt's teacher and his counselor from his services agency referred him to Project SEARCH/Indiana. This is a program that gives students in their last year of high school a chance to work at unpaid internships in different types of businesses. Students also take classes in which they learn skills they will need to work in the community.

When he started working in Project SEARCH/Indiana at Community Hospital East, Emmitt trained as a rehab technician. This meant learning about the different reasons patients need physical, recreational, speech, or occupational therapy. Emmitt learned the proper way to transport different types of patients. He also learned how to help patients do exercises to strengthen their muscles or learn to walk again. He and his supervisor and job coach from Project SEARCH/Indiana found that it was helpful for him to use a board with pictures to learn everything about this challenging job and its strict schedule. As Emmitt got used to the work, he gained confidence and enjoyed himself more and more.

It was clear to Emmitt's coworkers that he noticed what was happening around him and was taking his work seriously. He was determined to learn and was a focused, energized team member. Emmitt had a comfortable, soft-spoken way of interacting with patients. He learned to do some tasks independently. He also learned when to ask for and when to offer help, and was respectful and mature when people offered him assistance he didn't need. Emmitt would take on extra work and come in on his days off. He asked his supervisor if they would hire him, but was told there were no open positions. Nevertheless, he kept a good attitude and strong commitment to his work. By the time a paid position opened up, Emmitt's supervisor had enough confidence in him that she decided to offer him the job.

What happened:

Emmitt is now a benefited employee who works 30–35 hours a week, usually from 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., at $9.75 an hour. He works on teams transporting patients to and from their appointments. He continues to help patients with their exercises and with gait-training (learning to walk). He also independently files reports on what each patient was able to do each day. Emmitt's supervisor trusts him to know when he can do a task on his own and when he needs support. Patients and team members appreciate the competent, relaxed way in which he works with them.

Lessons learned:

  • Show interest and enthusiasm. Emmitt's job coach often reminds students to tell employers that they're interested in the work they're doing. Emmitt showed his supervisor his strong commitment to the job, not only by doing well, but also by asking about the possibility of a more permanent position.
  • Treat an interesting unpaid position like a paid job. Individuals in many unpaid positions model the behaviors that the best employees show in paid jobs. These behaviors include taking on extra tasks, knowing when to ask questions or ask for support, and establishing trust with the supervisor. People who adopt these behaviors while working in unpaid jobs win the respect of their supervisors and colleagues, and are more likely to find paid work.
  • Try out low-cost, low-tech solutions first. Something as simple as a picture checklist can support an individual in completing complex jobs.

For more information, contact:

Keith Fox

Project SEARCH/Indiana is an affiliate of Project SEARCH International, established at Cincinnati Children's Medical Center. More information on Project SEARCH is available at http://www.projectsearch.us/.