Jessica Lilly Published

Can West Virginia's Laid Off Coal Miners Find New Careers?


Some miners are looking for new occupations because they worry this current down swing in coal production won’t be an ordinary ‘bust’. Workforce West Virginia is reporting that more than 4,200 West Virginia coal miners have lost their jobs since March 2012. Although mining jobs were created during that same, the agency couldn’t quantify the number. 

In March of 2012, the bureau of labor statistics forecasts that coal mining would decline between 2010-2020, saying that support activities for mining is projected to experience little or no growth.  The bureau said declining employment in these industries is mainly attributable to technology advancements that boost worker productivity.

More than 700 West Virginia coal miners are expected to lose their jobs by the end of this year and many them are being forced to find new occupations. 

What other types of work are displaced miners looking for?

  •  Commercial Freight/Truck Driver 
  •  Welder
  •  Health Care Technician
  •  HVAC Repair Technician
  •  Diesel Technology and Chemical Processing
  •  Electrical Engineer
  •  Robotics Technology Operator

Federal and state dollars are helping to pay for these types of retraining programs.

"Their first hope is they’re going to get called back to their job or get another mining job and the reality may be that it won’t happen," said Brett Dillon, Director of United Mine Workers of America Career Center in Beckley.  

What groups are offering help for retraining?

The state  just wrapped up a series of ‘rapid response’ meetings which are designed to help miners sign up for unemployment benefits and learn more about various training options.

  •  The West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services which is offering $6,000 towards retraining for miners who qualify. This is reserved for miners with conditions like diabetes, ADD, ADHD, etc. 
  •   The US Department of Labor awarded the Coal Mining National Emergency Grant to West Virginia. Workforce West Virginia is administering the $1.8 million  emergency grant awarded in late June 2012. Up to $5,000 is available for miners and their family members for classroom occupational skills  training. 
  •  Coal Mining National Emergency Grant also provides money for travel, child care, gas, food at the rate of $20 per day for the days attending class up to  $100 per week
  • UMWA Career Center partners with several of the community colleges and universities throughout the region including New River, and Southern Community and Technical College, and The Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) to offer training in different occupations.  RCBI has created an individual program designed specifically for coal miners. The school is working to condense a two year Associate’s Degree in robotics technology into a 9-month training program.

Retaining takes some encouragement

Robert Lafever recently lost his job driving a coal truck. The Clay County resident started work in the coal business in 1980.  

“They sent me papers to come up to get retrained,” Lafever said, “so I wanted to see what they got to offer.” 

“They’re devastated because they just lost a good paying job.  One of the best paying jobs in West Virginia,” Dillon said. 

He said every miner to reach out for some form of retraining. 

“I tell them that, while they’re drawing unemployment, don’t sit on the couch watching TV, go ahead and get some training,” he said. “Maybe you’ll get called back to the mines. Maybe you’ll get another mining job. You may not need this training.”

But Dillon said some miners are worried a lack of experience elsewhere tends to be discouraging.

“What I tell the guys when they say, ‘all I’ve ever done is coal mining. I can’t do nothing else,’ well the first thing I say is ‘that’s bull’,” Dillon said.

“’You have been a coal miner for a number of years and coal miners are very resourceful you can call a lot of them ‘MacGyvers.’”