New lab at Clark State College to support students with disabilities

The Abilities Connection (TAC) and Quest Inc., a supporting corporation with Developmental Disabilities of Clark County, have collaborated to offer a hands-on, performance-based vocational assessment for students with disabilities and other barriers in the community.

The PAES Lab will launch with its first cohort of students on July 25 and be located at Clark State College’s main campus in Springfield, a continued expansion of Clark State’s partnership with TAC.

PAES – Practical Assessment Exploration System – is a transition assessment of employment potential for students with disabilities or other barriers that may prevent them from obtaining employment after they transition out of high school. PAES is validated to predict employment potential 3 to 5 years in the future and can help to identify employment skills a student has or may need to develop to succeed in future employment. Quest Inc. purchased PAES in January 2022.

“The PAES Lab is a very valuable tool for students as it will help identify their potential career path and post-secondary goals,” says Michael Baker, transition coordinator at TAC. “The community and local businesses will benefit in the long term due to successful job placements based on the individual’s strengths and interest identified in the PAES lab.”

Baker says the assessment results present a profile of workplace skills that generalize to expectations of vocational-technical training and community-based employment. Currently the PAES Lab will only be providing assessments to individuals living in Clark County. 

“The PAES Lab will ensure we are finding the right jobs for the right people,” he says. “Job matching is critical for successful community employment.”

The PAES Lab is designed to mimic real workplace settings, with the instructors becoming supervisors and students becoming employees. Individuals explore jobs in five areas such as business/marketing, service, production, construction/industrial, and computer technology.

Candidates for the program are determined by individual’s wants, needs and preferences in conjunction with their interdisciplinary teams recommendation, whether through the high school or Developmental Disabilities of Clark County.

“The PAES Lab will identify an individual’s unique interests and aptitudes after 60 to 80 hours spent in the Lab,” says Baker. “The individuals support team will be able to develop an employment plan tailored specifically to the individuals strengths and interest. This will help ensure a long-term goal of successful job placement in the community.”

PAES offers participants – both high school students and adult learners - an opportunity to explore their interests and abilities through a wide range of basic “hands-on” skills essential for participation in the vocational-technical trainings and community-based employment settings.

“Learning is an integral part of the assessment process and takes place as a result of the sequential instruction provided to participants as they apply what they have learned in one job level to the next,” says Baker. “PAES participants learn appropriate ways to recognize and solve common problems that occur on the job. Ultimately, assessment procedures encourage PAES participants to work as independently as possible and ask for assistance only when necessary.”

TAC was selected by Quest Inc. to manage and provide instruction for the lab. TAC is an organization in Springfield that empowers people with disabilities and other barriers to reach their full potential through meaningful employment, training, and support.

“Shifting services and support from facility-based models to the community aligns perfectly with the PAES lab at Clark State,” says Scott Jones, Director of Community Connections and Employment at Development Disabilities of Clark County. “We’ve learned over the past two years that many individuals and families consider TAC to be their place of employment. But we also learned it’s not the TAC building that individuals and families are attached to – it’s the staff relationships they value and trust.”

In identifying potential site locations for the program, TAC knew that students could benefit significantly with exposure to a higher education campus. Clark State housing the PAES Lab is an expansion of Clark State’s growing partnership with The Abilities Connection. This spring, TAC relocated its Fresh Abilities restaurant to the Eagle’s Nest at Clark State where students receive the classroom portion of
their training program through Clark State’s Workforce and Business Solutions.

“Clark State and TAC are two organizations with similar missions – ‘To empower diverse learners, including individuals with disabilities, through education and training,’” says Crystal Jones, vice president of marketing, diversity, and community impact at Clark State. “The PAES lab is yet another great program that fosters our missions. The lab further exhibits belonging, while preparing students for employment and exposing them to the Clark State campus.”

Jones, who also serves on the Board of Directors for TAC, says the PAES lab is intentionally located in the Student Services department to ensure additional resources are available for those who need them.

“The PAES lab helps to bring our partnerships with Clark State, Quest Inc., and Developmental Disabilities of Clark County full circle to strengthen opportunities available for people with disabilities and other barriers in our community,” says Jim Zahora, CEO of The Abilities Connection.

Read more articles by Darci Jordan.