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Job hopefuls fill out applications at a recent TECO Coal job fair at the Perry County JobSight. The two-week event drew about 263 applicants, some of whom were accepted into a TECO training program.

An applicant fills out paperwork at a recent job fair for James River Coal at the Perry County JobSight, which drew about 40 people.

About 105 people showed up for a recent International Coal Group (ICG) job fair at the Perry County JobSight.

Job Fairs at Perry County JobSight Drawing Hundreds Seeking Underground Mining Jobs

In eastern Kentucky, underground coal mining operations are almost always seeking miners, and countless people are almost always seeking the good-paying jobs those mines provide.

The Perry County JobSight workforce center has proven itself an effective matchmaker in bringing both of those sides together for several key members of the area’s coal industry.

Since April, about 450 applicants have attended job fairs hosted by JobSight for coal companies including TECO Coal, James River Coal Company, International Coal Group (ICG), and P&P Construction.

At those events, applicants came to the JobSight workforce center operated by the L.K.L.P. Community Action Council at Jeff to fill out job applications and take mechanical aptitude tests. Many of them were either hired based on their previous mining experience, or accepted into training programs for those new to underground mining.

Charles Frazier, a human resources officer with TECO subsidiary Perry County Coal, said the company simply could not do large scale recruiting efforts without the help of JobSight.

“The services the JobSight provided have been very instrumental in allowing us to achieve our hiring goals,” he said.

The Perry County JobSight is part of the JobSight network of workforce centers administered in 23 eastern Kentucky counties by the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP). JobSight “one-stop” workforce centers give job seekers and employers access to over a dozen state and federal employment and training programs and employer services at a single location.

Perry County JobSight Manager Jack Duff said he sees JobSight’s role in the job fairs as “helping companies find the right people for the right jobs.”

Surface mining is much like construction work, Duff said, but underground mining requires special skills and temperament, as well as extreme safety consciousness. As a result, fewer people are fit for the job and companies have a “desperate need” for experienced underground miners.

That’s why the Perry County JobSight’s coal job fairs are primarily aimed at getting miners into “Red Hat” programs that provide essential hands-on, on-the-job training for new miners.

Some of these training programs are funded with grants obtained through the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS). At times, EKCEP contributes employers’ required share of the training funding, meaning some employers participate in the programs at little or no cost to them.

These training programs make it easy for a company to bring on a whole new group of miners, Duff said.

Companies can also be sure miners who have finished the program have the necessary safety training and experience to begin working underground, he said.

The largest of the recent JobSight job fairs was a two-week event held in late July and early August for TECO, which drew 263 jobseekers hoping to be chosen for 24 spots in TECO’s Red Hat program.
This high level of interest in underground mining jobs is understandable, Duff said, considering starting salaries for experienced miners can be more than $35,000 a year.

TECO’s program starts with a one-week class teaching general mining and safety information.

This is followed by another week during which trainees learn specific information about the mine where they will be working, such as mine, ventilation and roof control plans, and where to barricade underground in case of an accident, Frazier said. Participants also tour the mine that week.

From the time the training starts, the miners make $15 an hour and get raises as they complete different levels of the Red Hat training until they hit $18.50 an hour, Frazier said.

When they are trained to operate a specific piece of equipment, they will get an additional raise based on the pay scale for operators of that piece of equipment.

Frazier said the company plans to run two classes—one general program for 14 non-experienced miners and another program for 10 non-experienced miners who have shown a high level of mechanical aptitude for construction, welding, or other experienced activities. The latter group of miners might be more likely to do well in specialized jobs performing tasks like servicing equipment, he said.

Miners brought on through these training programs are more likely to stay with the company longer than miners recruited by other means, Frazier said. That’s because the programs help engender loyalty in the trainees, he said.

Representatives from other area coal companies also praised JobSight job fairs as an efficient recruiting tool.

Dan Fields with P & P Construction was pleased that 40 people showed up for the company’s job fair held April 25.

Fields wanted to hold a job fair to seek out miners who already had experience. He was impressed by how well the JobSight staff were able to meet his request and the number of applicants the job fair drew.
“From now on, I’m going to have (our job fairs) at JobSight,” Fields said.

Other companies such as James River Coal and ICG chose to participate in job fairs to attract people to Red Hat programs similar to TECO’s.

Danny Sorrells, human resources director for James River Coal subsidiaries Blue Diamond Coal and Leeco, Inc., said he was pleased with the job fair held for the company on June 10.

“It was a tremendous help,” Sorrells said.

About 41 people showed up for the James River Coal job fair, and 14 were eventually chosen for the company’s Red Hat program, Duff said.

Donna Johnson, L.K.L.P. Manpower director, said that in James River Coal’s case, L.K.L.P. was able to use Workforce Investment Act (WIA) funds to pay for necessary starting equipment for the trainees, including hardhats, a light and charger, a belt, kneepads, mining boots, and leather gloves.

Duff said the ICG job fair May 30 was also successful, drawing 105 applicants and getting about 14 of them into the company’s Red Hat training program.

For additional information on the JobSight network or EKCEP’s employer services, call EKCEP Business Solutions Manager Crawford Blakeman at 606-436-5751, Perry County JobSight Manager Jack Duff at 606-436-3161.

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