The recession cost Robert Bennie his construction job, Kalama Colburn lost her position as a hairdresser when her salon closed down and like a lot of people who had never pursued a higher education, college seemed like an impossible dream to both of them.

Now Bennie and Colburn are each enrolled at a University of Hawaiʻi Community College, thanks to iCAN, a career and workforce student support program.

“I had a great fear of sitting in a classroom in college with a lot brighter people around me,” said Bennie. “But now after going through iCAN, I am confident I can sit there with anyone.”

“It is very eye opening to see what I can accomplish, you know, in such a short time,” agreed Colburn.

iCAN is a self-paced fast-track program, four hours a day, 120 hours total, that prepares individuals for college and/or trains them for jobs that are in demand in today’s highly competitive economy. It offers a broad range of support services. Instructors work with the students on reading, writing, math and computer skills.

“They were so nice and patient with me and I kept asking the same questions, kept asking until finally I got it,” said Bennie. “Every time I asked they were happy to answer.”

Counselors coach job readiness skills like collaboration and other social skills critical to success in both the work place and classroom.

“Communications, critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, and along that we try to help them to maintain psychological and mentally strong to finish the program,” said Hieu Pham Stuart, a Kapiʻolani Community College iCAN counselor.

“It’s just helped a lot, you know, you learn a lot,” said Colburn. “You meet good counselors that help you deal with some of the stress issues that you are having.”

The students also work on things like resume writing and job interviewing techniques.

iCAN is a partnership between the UH Community Colleges and the Hawaiʻi Department of Labor and is part of the Community Colleges Career Training program or C3T, funded by a $24.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration.

C3T’s mission is to enhance the relationships between community colleges and the public workforce system by developing new training programs and supporting existing ones that lead to jobs in the agriculture, energy and health industries; a critical part of government initiatives to diversify the economy and improve food and energy self-sufficiency.

And it all starts with giving motivated individuals the tools and support they need to succeed.

“The lessons are really difficult and they get difficult, and then you punch through like a wall of understanding,” said Bennie. “And then it’s easy. Then it gets harder and harder again and you punch through another wall of understanding. And after going through so many walls of understanding it just builds a lot of confidence.”

“There’s great people that will help work with you, as well as push you to your goal, as well as you pushing yourself,” agreed Colburn. “And they hold you accountable to that. And from there, anything is possible.”