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Free training helps Hawaii residents land recession-resistant jobs

                                Regine Dela Cruz, who is training to become a certified nurse aide after being furloughed as a hotel worker, turns a patient over in bed.
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Regine Dela Cruz, who is training to become a certified nurse aide after being furloughed as a hotel worker, turns a patient over in bed.

Still out of work or underemployed? Hana Career Pathways is offering up to $2,000 in tuition aid to help Hawaii residents shift into stable careers in health care, technology and the skilled trades.

Funded by a competitive $13.3 million federal grant, the program offers short-term training at University of Hawaii community colleges for a variety of jobs in those recession-resistant fields. They range from computer networking to maintenance electrician, and pharmacy technician to certified nurse aide.

“We’re really excited to be able to offer this statewide training program that leads to industry credentials for in-demand jobs in Hawaii,” said Nicolette van der Lee, program manager for Hana Career Pathways. “We can really support our residents to get back to work with the skills that they need, based on input from employers.”

The initiative is open to people who are unemployed or underemployed, such as those working part time or making less than $20 an hour. High school and college graduates who have not yet landed a job are also eligible.

Along with tuition assistance, the program offers career readiness training, job search help and other financial support to help overcome hurdles, such as Wi-Fi access and transportation.

“All of these financial barriers are things that we want to remove so our community participants can focus on the academic and technical skills that they’ll gain through the program,” van der Lee said.

“It’s intended to help participants connect to employment, so it’s not just training for training’s sake,” she added. “It’s training for the sake of becoming employed and getting on a pathway that leads to advancement.”

Hana Career Pathways offered a few health care courses in the spring, but its full launch starts this month across all three fields: information technology, skilled trades and health care.

Regine Dela Cruz, a mother of two boys, was furloughed from her hotel job last year and is studying at Leeward Community College to become a certified nurse aide.

“I got furloughed during the COVID, when the pandemic started,” she said. “So then I thought I wanted to go to a field that offers more job opportunities.”

“I feel like the CNA is a foundation to start off my nursing career,” she added. “My long-term goal is to become a registered nurse.”

Many of the Hana Career Pathway courses are online or “hybrid,” which is a combination of in-person and online sessions, and can reach participants on different islands.

The information technology courses include introductory sessions such as A+ Computer Hardware and Software, as well as higher-level courses on building infrastructure and networking.

“This would be a great onramp to that career pathway,” van der Lee said.

Courses in the skilled trades could lead to jobs as an air conditioning technician, agricultural technician or maintenance electrician. Health care options include certified nurse aides, medical reimbursement specialists, dental assisting, medical reception, pharmacy technician and phlebotomist.

Hawaii was one of just eight states to win the Reimagining Workforce Partnership grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

“It was a really competitive process — I believe 38 states applied,” said Tammi Chun, interim associate vice president for academic affairs at the UH community colleges.

The Hawaii Workforce Development Council partnered with UH and others to create Hana Career Pathways. The three-year federal grant is expected to cover 3,000 training opportunities.

“This is a pandemic response to help our residents whose employment was COVID-impacted,” Chun said. “We are trying to connect all the dots on what it takes to build a resilient, vibrant workforce.”

She said participants who complete IT certifications, for example, will have the chance to apply for paid internships with local companies.

“The opportunities to start with short-term training and then become employed while pursuing a higher-skill, higher-level degree, vary by industry sector,” Chun said, “but opportunities are being developed right now.”


To learn more and apply:

>> uhcc.hawaii.edu/reimagine

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