PROSPERITY – The UMWA Career Centers, Inc. in Ruff Creek, established in 2006 to train new inexperienced miners, mine rescue teams, first responders and mine examiners, etc., is switching its focus and will now operate training programs for displaced miners and their families, helped largely by a $1.2 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).
The grant will allow UMWACC to launch three new career retraining programs through collaborative agreements with leading career and technical education providers. Over the next three years, residents in western Pennsylvania and parts of West Virginia will have affordable access to career retraining in cyber security, advanced manufacturing and commercial driver’s license (CDL), all of which are in-demand occupations.
Clemmy Allen, executive director of the Career Centers on Dunn Station Road in Prosperity, said, “We are pleased to be designated as one of the awardees of this POWER Initiative. This award provides us with the funding to develop training programs to encourage people from the rural mining communities of Appalachia to retrain for family sustaining jobs.”
But while the UMWA Career Centers, Inc. was the premiere training facility in the country and was instrumental in changing the way Mine Rescue Teams train, it soon became apparent the coal industry began experiencing a mass decline, and by 2015 many coal miners were no longer needing safety skills training.
In 2016, Greene County officials approached UMWACC and asked it to repurpose the facility and expand to train for careers outside the coal industry. UMWACC met with various state and local entities from Pennsylvania and West Virginia and was directed toward President Obama’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization POWER grant.
The POWER grant is a multi-agency, congressionally funded initiative that targets federal resources to help communities and regions that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations and coal-related supply chain industries due to the changing economics of America’s energy production.
UMWACC began the grant application process in August 2016, and was notified the application was approved January 20.
The POWER Implementation grant was for $2.5 million of which $1.2 million is covered through the ARC POWER grant and $1.3 million is covered through matching costs from UMWACC and its partners, Allen said. The program will train 400 miners over three years in three initial training programs at the Ruff Creek facility.
“Coal miners are workforce-ready people,” Allen said Wednesday while working in his office in Ruff Creek. “These guys are good workers, a unique group of men and women.”
Eligible participants for any of the three programs will be determined based on their county of residence. Eligible counties in Pennsylvania are Greene, Allegheny, Fayette, and Westmoreland. Cambria, Somerset, Washington and Indiana.
The Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) program will be conducted by the PIA Jump Start program.
A satellite office will be set up in Ruff Creek, bringing trucks, equipment and instructors, and providing the training on the Ruff Creek site on the soon-to-be-constructed driving range. The first class is expected to begin this August.
The second training program is the Advanced Manufacturing program that will be taught by Pennsylvania Highlands. They, too, will set up a satellite office in Ruff Creek and use the soon-to-be-renovated simulated coal mine for the training program. The program is expected to begin in early 2018.
The final training program in cyber security will be taught by Allegany College of Maryland.
This program will take some time to set up as it will require broadband-style Internet, which is currently unavailable in Ruff Creek.