The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

May 11, 2008

Training key to jobs for inexperienced coal miners

The key to unlocking the doors to a job in the financially invigorated coal mining industry appears to start with a T — training.

One other fact can be stated with certainty, according to those in the know — coal mining is simultaneously experiencing a hiring boom and a wave of retirements unlike anything seen in the last two decades.

“Yeah, the boom has already started,” United Mine Workers of America Career Center director Brett Dillon declared without hesitation last week. One business manager of a coal company in Boone County calculated the average age of his workforce is in the mid-to-late 50s.

“The problem is that we went 20 years — a whole generation — and hired very few coal miners. We’ve got a generation there left out. Now we’ve got a lot of miners retiring and nobody to fill their shoes, as far as experience. Companies will have to hire trainees — or red hats — to fill the voids created by the retirements,” Dillon predicted.

To the chagrin of many who seek employment in the industry, most advertisements for job vacancies specify the prerequisite of “experience.” Therein lies the catch-22 question confronted by those trying to get their proverbial foot in the door of any job market — how do you gain experience if no one will hire you and give you that experience?

“You will continue to see ads for experienced miners, but you’ll also see more ads looking for apprentice miners. Just a couple of weeks ago, a company was looking for red hats. We’re starting to see those now,” Dillon observed.

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Training — along with loads of patience and dedication — becomes crucial at that point, said Donnie Coleman, president of Southern Safety Inc. in Sophia. Coleman’s advice is to acquire any training or certification possible for starters.

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