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Free Program Turns Coal Miners Into Computer Programmers

There are 40 percent fewer coal miners working in the US today than there were just five years ago, and 100,000 fewer coal jobs than there were in the mid-1980s. Despite President Trump’s promises to bring back coal, most agree that it’s a dying industry — more expensive and less efficient than green energy technologies like wind and solar. The shift is better for the planet, but what about the coal miners, who now find themselves without jobs?
coal miner
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One problem is that coal mining pays better than most other jobs available to former miners. The median annual salary for a miner in 2017 is $64,800, according to PayScale data. It also doesn’t require a lot of education.

“You can come right out of high school and make $70,000 a year,” said Missy Perdue, wife of a miner, in an interview with ABC News in 2010.

Nine out of 10 men in Appalachia, where coal dominates, don’t graduate from college, ABC News reported at the time. That makes transitioning into another career even harder.

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How One Coal Miner Became a Computer Programmer

A recent CNN article tells the story of Marvin Laucher, a coal miner who made an unlikely career change.

Last summer, Laucher told his sister Amanda that he was afraid he’d lose his job due to cuts at the Greene County, Pennsylvania mine where he worked. Amanda Laucher and her husband, Jonathan Graham, are technology consultants based in Chicago. They suggested that Laucher learn to code.

“Don’t you need a college degree for that?” Laucher initially asked.

It turns out, no. Laucher learned several programming languages from his sister and brother-in-law, including HTML, Javascript, and CSS. He now has a second job building websites for $20 an hour, padding his income from the mine, where he earns about half of his former $100,000-a-year salary.

There are 40 percent fewer coal miners working in the US today than there were just five years ago.Click To Tweet

Mined Minds: A Free Job Training Program for Coal Miners

Amanda and Jonathan started Mined Minds, a free computer coding program for miners, traveling 500 miles each way to teach classes every other week. They pay all the costs themselves, even buying laptops for students who need them and offering free lunch.

The program recently teamed up with Community College of Allegheny County to expand their classes. Amanda and Jonathan are considering a move to Greene County to work on their program full-time.

After some skepticism, the community has embraced their efforts, they tell CNN. One program participant says, “Computer coding is probably one of the best things that ever came to this community in a long time.”

Which is not to say that programming work will replace miners’ lost earnings, at least not right off the bat. $20 an hour doesn’t add up to a six-figure annual income. But the median income for a computer programmer is $60,842 per year. With training and experience, former coal miners who learn to code might forge careers that pay similarly to what they’d earn in the mines. But they’ll be working in an industry that’s expanding.

Tell Us What You Think

Would a program like this help you transition to a new career? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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