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Warrior Met Coal and Bevill State provide roadmap for public-private workforce development partnerships

Alabama’s Warrior Met Coal (NYSE: HCC) has partnered with Bevill State Community College to offer a new four-week miner training class for prospective employees.

The program graduated its first 15-member class Thursday with each of the mining trainees headed to full-time employment beginning Friday with the Brookwood-based company.

According to Alabama Coal Association President Patrick Cagle, global demand for Alabama’s high-quality metallurgical (met) coal, a special type of coal used to make steel, is creating a need for more underground coal miners.

The new public-private partnership between Warrior Met Coal and Bevill State seeks to fill these jobs, which offer an average starting salary around $85,000, with ready-to-work employees.

“This four-week program is an excellent way for prospective employees to get hands on experience as they learn what a career in underground mining entails,” Cagle said in a statement. “Technology has fundamentally changed underground mining. It’s hard to understand how advanced these operations have become until you’ve seen it first-hand.”

Warrior Met Coal CEO Walt Scheller noted that the training program is just another way the Alabama company works to ensure its miners are well-equipped with the skill sets and knowledge to understand the importance of safety in mining operations.

“We want our employees to succeed as they pursue their careers in mining and we want them to do so safely,” Scheller said in a press release. “Through this program with Bevill State, we are ensuring they have a better understanding of what it is like to work underground and how they should do it safely every day.”

Throughout the new program, the prospective employees are paid a $600 per week stipend as they learn the ins and outs of the industry through training in a simulated mine environment.

“Warrior Met Coal has really stepped up to the plate to make this as realistic as possible,” said Ken Russell, director of workforce solutions at Bevill State, in a statement. He added that Warrior Met Coal has supplied the materials to equip the simulated mine and acknowledged the assistance of Sumiton Machine for helping to get equipment on site and the belt running.

Russell noted every day begins and ends with safety as miner trainees are taught everything from how to build stoppings and route ventilation to roof control, setting timbers, methane detection and more.

“We help them to understand how to lay track, how to hang high voltage cable and how to put pipe together as well as power center operation, belt structure assembly, rock dusting and how to operate fire equipment,” Russell explained, detailing some of the curricula taught.

In addition to Russell, three instructors, all of whom are experienced miners, work with the program at Bevill State: Ben Sivley, Rob Dzrino and Gerald Kimes.

“I can’t say enough about the support we have received from Warrior Met for this program,” Russell continued in a statement. “They are looking for more skilled and safety conscious employees who have a better understanding of mining and that’s what this program provides.”

Since it formed two years ago, Warrior Met Coal has gone approximately from 500 employees up to 1,400 now. The company expects to hire around 200 additional miners through their new partnership with Bevill State over the next year.

However, the economic impact of Alabama’s coal industry goes far beyond the mine site.

Per Cagle, metallurgical coal produced at places like Warrior Met Coal travels by barge or train to the Port of Mobile where it is loaded on to export vessels and transported to international steelmakers. This provides employment for those involved in the transportation industry, and the export of Alabama met coal also helps offset the nation’s trade imbalance.

In fact, the coal terminal accounts for more than half of the operational revenue generated by the Port of Mobile. Training a new generation of miners to continue to produce Alabama coal in a safe manner, Cagle emphasized, is vital.

“Helping new miners understand the industry through programs like the one being offered at Bevill State is a key to future success, but it’s something that affects not only the miners completing the program,” Cagle noted. “The cooperation between one of our Alabama mining companies and higher education to ensure miners are well-trained is a testament to the commitment both have to the importance of safe mining practices and the future of the Alabama coal industry.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn