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Success Xpress brings on-site training to miners

The Success Xpress, a mobile training facility built into a 53-foot truck trailer, will soon make two stops in Letcher County to provide miners working with local coal companies high-quality training in key mining skills using the industry’s most advanced technology.

The Success Xpress features a state-of-the-art classroom outfitted with a computerized three-dimensional mining simulator and a handson lab area featuring electrical training panels exactly like those on actual mining equipment. It is owned and operated by the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP), Inc., a nonprofit agency that administers workforce development programs in eastern Kentucky.

Miners at Cumberland River Coal in Eolia are scheduled to train on the Success Xpress’ electrical panels on Saturday, July 14. After spending a week at Harlan- Cumberland Coal in Harlan County, the Success Xpress will return to Letcher County for a two-week stop at Sapphire Coal in Isom from July 23-Aug. 2. There, miners will train on the Success Xpress’ electrical panels and continuous mining machine simulator.

The Success Xpress can be driven to remote coal mines, colleges, high schools, or any other location where training is needed. This mobility allows working miners to train on the Success Xpress for certifications in essential high-skill positions (mine electricians, METs, equipment operators, foremen, etc.) at their work sites, reducing the impact of training on their companies’ productivity. It also allows high school students who are considering careers in coal to get a firsthand look at the high-tech nature of modern mining.

The Success Xpress makes training and instruction accessible to working miners and students at any location in the EKCEP service area, according to Crawford Blakeman, EKCEP Business Solutions manager.

Since late December, the Success Xpress has trained working miners and students in Clay, Harlan, Knott, Knox, Laurel, Lawrence, Letcher, Martin, Perry, and Pike counties. The Success Xpress has also visited area technology centers in Clay, Knott, Martin, and Pike counties, and the Kentucky Junior Coal Academy at Lawrence County High School, allowing hundreds of high school students to spend time at the controls of the facility’s continuous mining machine simulator.

Recently, about 200 underground coal miners at the James River Coal Company’s Leeco and Blue Diamond mines in Perry County mined “virtual coal” with the Success Xpress’ simulator. Full shifts of mine electricians also diagnosed and corrected simulated “faults” in training exercises using the facility’s electrical training panels.

“The coal industry has indicated time and again that it needs trained, skilled miners,” said EKCEP Executive Director Mable Duke. “Success Xpress allows EKCEP to help address that need, and its mobility allows us to bring specialized training to the region’s miners and students in a way that has never been seen before.”

The simulator in the Success Xpress classroom includes a virtual reality headset and hand-held control panel. A trainee can wear the headset and experience the sights and sounds of operating a continuous mining machine to cut coal from the face of an underground mine. Others in the class can watch the operator’s progress on a 40-inch flatscreen display.

Distance-learning technology aboard the Success Xpress allows mining courses to be taught by specially qualified instructors at remote locations and transmitted to trainees in the mobile classroom. Remotecontrolled cameras in the mobile unit allow the class to interact with the remote instructor in real time. The Success Xpress classroom also includes wireless connectivity that provides Internet access at nine computer workstations.

Additionally, should the need arise, the communications equipment in the Success Xpress allows it to function as a mobile command center in the case of a mine accident or emergency.

Based in Hazard, EKCEP administers government employment and training programs and employer services in 23 rural mountain counties, including the entire eastern Kentucky coalfields. Duke said the training offered aboard Success Xpress will increase the number of high-paying jobs available to the region’s workforce, allowing workers to take advantage of the opportunities provided in the coal industry.

The Success Xpress was created with a portion of EKCEP’s share of a $3.1 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. The grant was awarded to EKCEP and the West Kentucky Workforce Investment Board (WKWIB) in December 2005 to train new miners and upgrade the skills of experienced miners in the state’s eastern and western coalfields. The grant was awarded under the President’s High Growth Job Training Initiative, as implemented by the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration.

The Center for Rural Development is also a participating partner, designing and coordinating the Success Xpress’ distancelearning technology.

For additional information on EKCEP and the Success Xpress, contact Crawford Blakeman at (606) 436-5751, or visit www.ekcep.org.

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