For Lee County, Virginia resident Jimmy Pittman, the POWER Grant was just the opportunity he had been waiting for. Since 2006, Jimmy has worked for Combs Group, Inc. in Harrogate TN, where he worked his way through the ranks as a welder and machinist, to eventually becoming supervisor and shop foreman.
Although he loved his job, Jimmy was all too familiar with coal being an up and down roller coaster, and after learning that his company would soon be laying off in December 2016, Jimmy began his search for a new career path with more possibilities.
Jimmy noticed an ad in the Powell Valley Newspaper for the POWER Grant- a program offered through the Southwest Virginia Workforce Development Board aimed at helping laid-off coal industry workers retrain for in-demand occupations.
Upon receiving his layoff notice, Jimmy called up Stephen Mullins, Regional POWER Grant Coordinator, to find out more information about the program. Stephen immediately met with Jimmy to understand what training opportunities and career path he was interested in pursuing, and together they mapped out a plan of action.
Although Jimmy has been a certified welder through the American Welding Society since 1990, he wanted to gain new skills that would help him become more employable in order to find employment outside of the coal industry. With an interest in electrical and maintenance, Stephen encouraged Jimmy to enroll in the HVAC program with Mountain Empire Community College and in mid-January 2017, he stepped foot on the MECC campus for the first time since graduating from the welding program in 1984.
With one semester of his HVAC training now complete, Jimmy is excited about the possibilities ahead and optimistic for the future. Jimmy initially plans to work for a local HVAC company, but with his new skills and confidence, he hopes to eventually start his own business.
When asked what advice he would give other laid-off coal industry workers, Jimmy responded, “I would tell them, you need to find something that you enjoy, and find something that there is a demand for. The more training you’ve got, the more opportunities you’ve got, and I would definitely advise anybody to get as much training as you can.”
Jimmy is scheduled to graduate with his career studies certificate in air conditioning and refrigeration at MECC in mid-December 2017. Jimmy currently resides in Rose Hill, VA with his wife and two children.
*The author, Cara Owens, serves as the marketing & grants coordinator for the Southwest Virginia Workforce Development Board.
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