Your résumé is on point. You have stellar education credentials, remarkable skills and achievements in your area of expertise, and years of experience in the field to back it all up. You’re ready to land that next great opportunity.
The only problem is finding that next opportunity.
That’s the situation Adriana Abshire was in more than two years ago when she was laid off from her job—like roughly 8,000 others—as a result of the well-documented downturn in Eastern Kentucky’s coal industry.
“I’m an industrial engineer,” Abshire, of Pike County, says. “I was actually born in Mexico, but I met my husband here, got married, and started working at an engineering firm.”
After eight years in that career, Abshire suddenly found herself out of work and facing an uncertain future.
“The coal business just started to go down and they didn’t have enough business,” she says.
While the layoff was a jolt to Abshire and her small family, she says she didn’t immediately feel the situation was dire.
“With the experience that I have and being bilingual, I didn’t want to take just any job,” she says, adding she felt her education would be an asset in her job search, not a burden. “I figured I could find something.”
But after two years, Abshire was still unemployed and desperate to find a new career path.
“We had to figure something out at that time because it was impossible to just pay the bills,” she recalls.
Facing the possibility of moving her family elsewhere so she could find work, Abshire and her husband heard an interesting commercial on a local radio station. A newly formed website and app development firm in Pikeville, Bit Source, was looking to find, hire, and train people to become computer coders.
To her surprise, the ad was specifically seeking laid-off coal miners and other out-of-work coal industry employees for this new opportunity, citing their grit, ability, technical expertise, and problem-solving mindset as key assets toward becoming coders.
“My husband said, ‘That sounds just like you! You’ve got an engineering background and you have all of these abilities and all of this background,’” Abshire says. “I didn’t know exactly what it was about, but I went ahead and applied just to see what came through.”
Bit Source was founded in 2014 by Pikeville businessmen Charles “Rusty” Justice and M. Lynn Parrish, who developed the idea after attending a SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) sponsored fact-finding trip to Awesome Inc., a computer-coding incubator in Lexington, Ky.
Justice and Parrish founded Bit Source as an effort to introduce a new tech sector to Eastern Kentucky; one that features coding and programming jobs that can ultimately pay wages that approach, and sometimes match and exceed, some coal-industry wages.
The Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP)—the region’s workforce development organization and staff of the Eastern Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board—partnered with Justice and Parrish to first help recruit potential coding interns to fill the firm’s inaugural training cohort.
EKCEP would then use National Emergency Grant funds from the U.S. Department of Labor through its Hiring Our Miners Everyday (H.O.M.E.) initiative—all under the auspices of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)—to cover the interns’ training wages for their participation in Bit Source’s immersive, 22-week, in-house training program.
Following a screening and interview process that included an intensive aptitude assessment, Bit Source hired Abshire and nine others in March 2015 from a pool of nearly 900 applicants. Including Abshire, nine of the 10 interns selected for training had been displaced in coal-related layoffs.
“I knew a little bit of CSS and HTML and Java, but not nearly enough to be a developer,” she says. “It was kind of scary, but I felt like everybody else was at the same level when we started.”
As part of Bit Source’s training program, Abshire and the other interns learned to write computer code that allows them to develop websites and software such as mobile apps and games for customers secured by the firm. Once their training completed in August, the interns transitioned to full-time coders at Bit Source.
“EKCEP views our partnership with Bit Source as a critical first step in establishing a new and vibrant tech sector in Eastern Kentucky,” says EKCEP Director of Agency Expansion Michael Cornett, who works closely with EKCEP’s digital economy-building efforts and its leadership of the White House’s TechHire designation for the region that launched in March.
“Though our regional, strategic TechHire plans are still being completed with the involvement of an extensive team of partners from tech employment, higher education, and other tech industry experts, Rusty Justice and Lynn Parrish emerged as the first innovators of this kind in our region,” Cornett adds. “Their work and vision for a digital economy here and our support is a great example of the good that can result from employer-led partnerships under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.”
As for Abshire, she says her new career path has been challenging, and the learning process has been nonstop. But the experience continues to be a rewarding one. Not only was she was able to secure a new career path and keep her family in Pikeville, but she also learned something about herself in the process.
“It feels like it has been constant learning and trying to get better at it and changing,” Abshire says. “But it all makes you feel like you can do something different than what you were used to for so many years.
“I feel like I can completely change my career path, be OK, and do good at it.”
EKCEP, a nonprofit workforce development agency headquartered in Hazard, Ky., serves 23 Appalachian coalfield counties. The agency provides an array of workforce development services and also administers the Hiring Our Miners Everyday (H.O.M.E.) program, which provides career services to laid-off miners and their spouses. Find out more at www.jobsight.org, www.ekcep.org, and www.facebook.com/ekcep.