May 8, 2013 by Joshua Wright
At least 3,000 coal miners in rural eastern Kentucky have lost their jobs since early 2012. This is the story of how the region has responded, and how the area’s workforce group used Emsi data to reel in a multimillion-dollar grant to help retrain the out-of-work miners and their spouses.
The Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP) serves 23 counties in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. Since the early 1900s, coal mining has been a bedrock industry for the rural region, furnishing well-paid jobs in a historically poor area that’s home to just under 500,000 people.
In January 2012, coal mines in the region, hurt by falling gas prices and a warmer-than-average winter, started to lay off workers. The downsizing continued through the summer, when EKCEP – the region’s jobs program and workforce board – hosted a rapid response meeting to let laid-off miners know about the services available to them through community partners.
“From that [meeting] we gathered enough information to determine that the layoffs were rather substantial,” said Bridget Back, EKCEP’s Research and Program Effectiveness Manager.
“The majority of the workers in the industry had only ever worked in the coal industry. Several had quit school and not obtained a GED. And the majority of them had been out of school for a very long time. So what we were looking at was the need for retraining. A lot of the skills that they have are very specific and not necessarily easily transferable without some type of training.”
The clear gap in training, along with declining Workforce Investment Act (WIA) funding, prompted EKCEP to apply for a National Emergency Grant from the Department of Labor — a grant application built on a foundation of labor market data from Emsi.
The grant called for information about the communities that EKCEP serves and the workers it was hoping to train. As the chief grant writer, Back needed data on local miners’ average wages and data on the regional coal industry in general – how many jobs it accounted for, what percentage of the workforce had been affected by the layoffs, how the workers’ average earnings compared to the region as a whole.
Using Analyst, Emsi’s labor market data and analysis tool, she discovered the average annual wage in the region’s coal mining industry is $86,000 – far larger than the overall average wage of $38,291 per year. EMSI data also showed the region had 13,000 mining jobs before the latest wave of layoffs.
Over the preceding year or so, EKCEP had documented 3,000 coal-mining layoffs, which added up to more than 20% of the region’s mining workforce. Back used these and others numbers in the grant to show just how big an impact the layoffs have had on the area.
In addition to getting up-to-date, trustworthy labor market information from Analyst, Back used Emsi’s tool to export reports that served as backup documentation for the grant application. “The Analyst system was really good for that because the reports for the coal industry are really easy to run,” she said. “And they download well. I ran them and I downloaded them, saved them. And I attached them exactly like that to our application.”
In March, the Department of Labor awarded EKCEP a National Emergency Grant of up to $5.2 million, with an initial funding of $3.8 million to train out-of-work miners and their spouses. The grant is the centerpiece of EKCEP’s Hiring Our Miners Everyday (or H.O.M.E.) program.
Over 900 dislocated workers have already enrolled for help through the program, and EKCEP has already committed over $1 million in funding for training services. Of the $1 million, almost $600,000 is in the form of on-the-job training partnerships with local small businesses. EKCEP will fund 50% to 75% of workers’ wages while they receive training from participating employers.
“The community is really starting to rally around this,” Back said. “It’s a two-year grant; we’re just a couple months into this, so I feel like the momentum is really starting to get behind this.”
Throughout the grant process, Back said Emsi Analyst proved to be an great tool. Among other things, it proved useful for finding the region’s emerging industries, which serve as potential targets for dislocated workers. Based on this information, H.OM.E. has helped train former miners for new careers as welders, electricians, industrial maintenance mechanics, lineworkers for the energy sector, and telecommunication workers.
“Emsi really helped a lot because without it, it would have taken a long time to actually dig through several different agencies to try to get the type of information we needed together,” Back said. “That’s what’s good about Emsi — with all the different statistics that you compile, everything’s in one place. So it makes it a lot easier for someone like me when I need that information to go to one place and be able to run a report and download it in a matter of minutes as opposed to spending days combing through different data and material.
“[Analyst] was really instrumental in helping me provide the information that we needed for our grant.”
Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. (Emsi) provides industry-leading employment data and economic analysis via web tools and custom reports. EMSI has produced more than 1,200 comprehensive impact analyses for colleges and universities in the US and internationally, and its web tools — Analyst and Career Coach — are used by thousands of professionals in higher education, workforce and economic development, and the private sector. For more information, visit economicmodeling.com.