Human Support Services


Human Support Services / HSS News  / HSS Opens First PAES Lab in Monroe County

HSS Opens First PAES Lab in Monroe County

PAES Lab at HSSPaul John “PJ” Broske has been working at Pizza Hut in Waterloo for about a year, but he’s not sure it’s what he wants to do for a lifelong career. Very few people do know – at 20 years old – what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

Broske got the job at Pizza Hut with training and assistance from the job coaching program here at Human Support Services (HSS). He says he likes his work there, but he wonders what else he might be good at.

That’s where our new PAES lab comes in.

PAES, which stands for Practical Assessment Exploration System, is a hands-on work training lab for adults and students with IEPs in grades 9 to 12.

The walls of the lab are lined with color-coded boxes, representing five career areas: Business/Marketing, Construction/Industrial, Consumer/Service, Processing/Production, and Computer/Technology.

Inside each box is the instruction card for a task designed to replicate a skill typically required at one of roughly 300 different jobs in the community in those five categories. For example, under Business/Marketing, one task might be to alphabetize a series of items. Such a skill would be mandatory at a variety of jobs in that area, from office assistant to video store clerk.

The boxes include all the materials needed to complete each task – whether it is mixing bowls for cooking/measuring or a drill for a construction job.

“The student clocks in like a job,” said Jessica Liefer, director of person-centered services. “They get their assignment and have to complete the steps for that task. The instructor evaluates them on their strengths and weaknesses, and how much they enjoyed the task. It helps the students explore what they like and what they’re good at.”

The trained instructor determines clients’ interest in specific work areas, competitiveness with peers, and assesses present barriers to future success, and then helps change them to positive work behaviors.

Students Already Learning Fast

PAES Lab at HSSMore than 30 individuals have used our PAES lab so far, but in the months to come, more than 100 will utilize the system. The amount of time a person spends in the lab varies, from a few hours once a week, to two hours, three times a week.

“Everyone starts at the top and works their way down, advancing to the next level,” Liefer said. “For some it’s an hour-long job – for others it takes longer, depending on the difficulty and the person.”

The PAES lab, which was installed in June, was funded by a grant in partnership with the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities and the Monroe-Randolph Regional Office of Education. Two staff members from Columbia School District #4 and four staff members from Waterloo School District #5 have already been trained on the use of the PAES lab.

“The teachers were excited about having this as an option,” Liefer said. “The students get to try out many different simulated career fields and decide if they want to look for a job in certain areas. It also helps develop appropriate work skills and behaviors, prior to working in the community.”

In the PAES lab, students are treated as an employee and the instructor is their supervisor.

“The expectation is that they’re an employee working on that job,” Liefer said. “So it teaches them to problem solve and it helps them get comfortable with having a boss and having to follow directions.”

So far, Broske’s tasks in the PAES lab have included alphabetizing a long list of items and measuring exact cups of flour and sugar. It’s the former he enjoyed most, he says.

“Every time I go to the PAES lab I learn new things,” said Broske, who dreams of one day working in the music or hospitality industries.

As the PAES lab continues to grow in use, we are in need of help from the community. We need audio job cards that allow students who are unable to read to follow the instructions independently. The cards, which can be purchased through Talent Assessment, cost $1,295.

We are also looking for more materials to add to the task boxes in the lab. A full list of needed items can be found here:

Please help us spread the word about this great new program!