The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Editorials

June 29, 2014

Diversifying

Grants for retraining needed so unemployed can get jobs

Last week, the federal government announced the awarding of twin grants worth more than $6 million to WorkForce West Virginia to be used to retrain unemployed state workers and help direct them into new jobs.

The same day we saw why these grants, and the efforts by WorkForce West Virginia, are so important.

The Pinnacle coal mine in Wyoming County announced that, if the market for metallurgical coal doesn’t improve in the next few weeks, nearly 400 miners would receive temporary layoffs of up to six months until that occurs.

Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. issued a WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notice) Wednesday with the United Mine Workers and the state of West Virginia to announce its “tentative plan to temporarily idle” the mine “due to deteriorating conditions in the metallurgical coal market.”

That mine produced 2.8 million tons of metallurgical coal in 2013. The mine could be idled up to six months, The Associated Press said.

In Boone County, Patriot Coal laid off 75 workers at two mining complexes.

And to the south, in Virginia, layoffs were announced at another mine there.

From 2010 to 2014, some 425 million tons of coal were exported from the United States, and 60 percent of that was metallurgical coal bound for steel manufacturers overseas, reports uscoalexports.org.

We hope that the Pinnacle layoffs, if they do indeed occur, will be short, and that our overseas markets for steel-producing coal recover.

These downturns overseas, it appears to us, can’t be blamed on the regulatory actions of the Environmental Protection Agency. Rather, these market fluctuations, as coal miners are so well aware, are cyclical.

But the overall trend for coal is downward.

Which makes grants like those to WorkForce West Virginia so important.

The larger of the two grants, $6.1 million from the Department of Labor’s Job-Driven National Emergency Grant, will help provide “coaching, counseling and direct job placement ... with good-paying jobs,” Sen. Joe Manchin’s office said.

The state agency will also use the funds to create and develop partnerships between workforce and industry organizations to train and place workers, primarily aiming at the state’s growing oil and gas industries, as well as construction.

“Too many hardworking and dedicated West Virginians and Americans across our country are still struggling to find and keep good-paying jobs because of our stagnant economy,” Manchin said. “This funding will help expand job training programs that will not only provide workers with the information they need to find job openings, but also will help them develop the skill sets necessary to fill those open positions.”

Just as we continue to work hard to diversify our economy in southern West Virginia, coal miners and other workers need to be given the chance at training to diversify their job skills as well.

These grants are a good step in that direction.

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