A group of 11 dislocated coal industry workers recently completed an intensive, 80-hour welding class through Mountain Empire Community College (MECC) and attended a graduation ceremony on Tuesday, June 6th at the Russell County Conference Center in Lebanon.
After receiving framed certificates of completion, the graduates attended a reverse job fair with representatives from a group of businesses in far Southwest Virginia: Tadano Mantis of Richlands, Steel Fab of Lebanon, and West River Conveyers & Machinery Company of Oakwood. The students have job interviews scheduled at Joy Global (Komatsu) of Duffield and NorrisBuilt Fabrication, Welding & Machine Shop of Norton.
Funded by the POWER-Resource Full National Dislocated Worker Grant, this special welding class was offered by MECC at Ridgeview High School in Clintwood using Dickenson County welding instructor Ben Kennedy as adjunct faculty. The genesis of the project came from Tommy Clements, dean of applied science and technology at MECC, who wanted to reach out to dislocated coal miners and other coal supply chain workers in the Dickenson County area to provide them with training opportunities in their own backyard.
“Being able to offer guaranteed job interviews with several regional employers was a major enticement for these POWER Grant participants,” said Regional POWER Grant Coordinator Stephen Mullins with the Southwest Virginia Workforce Development Board. “Training that upgrades your skills sets is important to become a more competitive job-seeker, but no one seriously embarks on a training program for its own sake. A training and credentialing program must lead to employment or it is a well-known fact in our area that dislocated workers, especially dislocated coal industry workers, are not interested.”
Craig Ball of Raven, a former driller with several coal supply chain companies, said he found out about the class through a post on Facebook. “I was tired of just being tied to coal,” he said. “When the coal market is down, you don’t get to work. Welding is one of the most highly-demanded jobs and welding is not just for coal. It’s used in manufacturing, transportation, construction – all kinds of different industries. Another factor in me deciding to take the class was because we were promised guaranteed job interviews with several local businesses after successful completion of the class.”
After the 10 weeks of training were completed, the students were assessed and tested for various American Welding Society (AWS) credentials by instructors with the Southwest Virginia Alliance for Manufacturing’s Centers of Excellence. Some of the students have already made plans to continue their welding training at one of two community colleges; others are contemplating other training options, such as power lineman or Class A CDL truck driver training.
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