Coal as a career
by Fred Pace
Heartland News Service
There are a lot of important questions that are presented throughout high school.
The biggest question we all are repetitively asked is what career we are interested in upon graduation.
The answer to that question for many of my peers has one thing in common: Coal. The only problem with that is my generation faces a question that those before us never had to consider: “Will there be a stable career in the coal industry for me to pursue?”
Several years ago, asking such a question would probably get you some funny looks from almost anyone. This is because we all know someone who spent their life as a miner, railroader, or coal truck driver. We are living in the heart of the billion dollar coal fields, after all. Unfortunately, with all the current layoffs and a cut in active mines, the absence of coal related jobs is no longer an uncommon concern.
Not only does this complicate things for those about to enter the work force, but also puts a strain on the students whose parent’s jobs are directly or indirectly linked to the coal industry. When the primary income is no longer available or significantly decreased because of the decline of coal production, making ends meet becomes much more difficult. In some cases, it is even made impossible.
Sports that require money for purchasing equipment, or clubs with a membership fee may be dropped because it simply cannot be considered a priority any longer. It’s devastating to those who have given years of their lives to coal, to see their children do without.
The success of the coal industry is honestly a domino effect. When it does well, we all do well. When it struggles, we all struggle. It’s encouraging to see pro-coal rallies and people who openly express their support for keeping coal alive.
People who have never lived in West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky may not understand why coal is something that we fight so hard for. You truly have to be a part of the community to understand what a huge impact it has on us. If the coal industry didn’t exist, there would be a scarce number of people living or working in Pike and Mingo Counties.
Coal is the gold of the mountains, and to us, it’s so much more than that. It’s our heritage. Our fathers came home with coal dust on their face. Mining stripes are considered a fashion statement. In the school parking lot, it’s strange not to see a truck sporting clever pro-coal graphics.
In yards,” Friends of Coal” signs are more common than trees. There are so many guys in BHS who have known from the day they started kindergarten that they wanted to be a coal miner like their dad, grandfather and great-grandfather.
It’s a family tradition.
In a lot of areas teens may not realize the importance of their elder’s careers. Here, it’s impossible not to. We are taught from a young age at home and in school that coal is what this town is built on. One thing we don’t have to be taught is respect for the mountains, because it’s in our blood. We all want the same thing, for the coal industry to be successful- now and for years to come, for our neighbors to be able to provide for their children, and have a job to go to every day.
This is one time I’ll definitely hop on the bandwagon by saying, “Support coal - or sit in the dark.”
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