Coal mines offering immediate opportunities for engineering grads

Coal mines offering immediate opportunities for engineering grads

The coal industry is so hungry for workers that at least some coal companies are snatching up coal mining engineering students before they make it through four years of college.

“Our mining engineering technology only has about 10 students in the entire program right now,” Roger Owensby said. “Some students start out in the program, but go straight to work in the mines.”

Owensby has headed the Bluefield State College mining engineering program for three decades. He said that demand for coal miners increased in 2005 and 2006. “It’s easy to go straight into a job right now,” Owensby said. “We probably only have two or three mining engineering technology students graduating this year.

“There were several years from 2000 to 2005 that we didn’t have any students at all in the program. Penn State and Pikeville have mining engineering technology programs, but for years and years, we were the only ones. Of course, Virginia Tech, West Virginia University and Kentucky have mining engineering programs.”

Owensby spent five years working underground at Eastern’s mine in Keystone. He said that Ralph Ratliff established BSC’s mining engineering technology program in 1970 or ‘71, and he (Owensby) came to BSC in 1978 to teach the miners’ certificate class.

“The students who are graduating next week have each had three or four job offers,” Owensby said. “Some civil engineering graduates will also go in the mines. I’ve had operators telling me that their production costs have doubled in recent years, but the price they’re getting for coal has gone up twice that much.”

Owensby said jobs in the coal industry will likely grow in the future. “The average of coal miners in West Virginia is 50,” Owensby said. “When all these baby boomers retire, there will be a lot of jobs open. Consol has told me that 2 or 3 of their people are retiring per month. Consol offers a management training program for students in the summer, but we don’t always have enough students to meet their needs.”

Owensby said that there is also a high demand for employees in the natural gas business. “The energy field is wide open for our graduates right now,” he said.


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