From coal mining to coding
A re-training opportunity in Appalachia. From The Pacific Standard.
Where Should All the Coal Miners Go?
It would be wrong, however, to write off coal country completely, or to underestimate the abilities of former coal miners. In a fascinating article in Matter, Lauren Smiley highlights an intriguing initiative in Kentucky to offer specialized job re-training to former coal miners in a well-paid, in-demand field that doesn't necessarily require relocating: coding. Smiley's piece focuses on BitSource, Kentucky's first Web development firm that was founded by the former owners of a land-moving company. BitSource is still new, and small—the first trainee class included only 10 former miners (out of 900 applicants)—but if the model can be scaled, miners might just have a shot at landing high-paying jobs without having to move or wait for a new industry to set up shop in Appalachia. Efforts are also underway to expand other tele-working opportunities in the region, although coding generally offers higher wages.
Coal mining, as Smiley notes, involves more than pure physical labor. Miners "calculate daily shock reports, operate complex machinery, and draft plans to get coal out of a mountain"—all tasks that make them better-suited to coding than one might expect. BitSource's coders underwent an intensive, 22-week training program (during which time they were paid $15 per hour, from federal funds). The start-up pieced together the open-sourced curriculum from websites like Lynda.com. BitSource is hoping to again train a new group of former miners early next year.
"Silicon Valley has shown that the digital economy doesn't have to be created in the same place that it's consumed," Smiley writes. "It can happen two hours from the nearest airport, in a place where building a new road requires sawing a mountain in half, by people who have different politics, accents and hobbies than the end-users."