Alpha Natural Resources says it needs to hire as many as 50 new underground coal miners just to keep pace with the number of miners being lost retirement.
Alpha, whose Enterprise Coal division has extensive operations in Letcher County, is facing a situation at its mines where almost a quarter of its workforce may retire within the next few years, stock analyst TREFIS reports.
WCYB-TV in Bristol, Tenn., reported last week that Alpha expects 20 to 25 percent of the workforce at the company’s Paramont Coal division to retire in the next few years.
Among those who will be retiring in the next few years are Chief Electrician Jeff Yates, 53, who has already spent 34 years in the mining industry. Yates said Alpha and other coal companies are having a harder time attracting young applicants today because of safety issues which occurred in the industry before Alpha was established.
“We are limited in the number of people applying, partly because of past accidents,”
Yates told WCYB’s Tarah Taylor. “We kind of got a black eye. We hope to eliminate that.”
To help meet its need for new miners, Alpha is aggressively targeting students who are graduating from colleges, universities, and career and technical schools through its Next Generation Program. But before any of the new recruits hit the mines, TREFIS says, Alpha requires they spend more than a year in training and working side-by-side with more experienced miners.
“ I’m trying to learn things from guys that have been underground for thirty plus years,” trainee Nick Belcher told WCYB. “To me they’re the best teachers.”
Tammy Lipps, who works in human resources for Alpha, said the company pays new miners more than $18 an hour.
“Our red pay is $18.60 an hour,” Lipps told WCYB, adding that within a year their pay can go up to the “ mid- 20 dollar an hour wage.”
Lipps said Alpha also pays for all training for its potential new miners.