Kentucky Coal Academy Solving Problem
Of Declining Workforce In Coal Industry
By: Ron D. Bryant
The Kentucky coal industry is facing a crisis. It is at an economic and cultural crossroads. The 19th and 20th centuries were dominated by energy derived from coal. Nevertheless, the burning of coal for energy has come under constant attack from a number of groups that feel the use of coal is destructive to the environment. Added to a less than positive view of the coal industry, the number of miners is sharply declining. Within five to seven years an estimated half of the mining workforce is expected to retire. The average age of a Kentucky coal miner is 48. Ironically, these statistics come at a time when the coal industry is poised for a major resurgence in the field of energy.
As the demand of the coal industry for trained miners continues to increase, the need for an educational institution to provide that training has become a priority. In June 2005, Dr. William J. Higginbotham proposed the establishment of just such an institution. By late summer, plans for the Kentucky Coal Academy were in place.
In partnership with the Kentucky Community Technical College System (KCTCS), the Kentucky Coal Academy (KCA) has become a reality. KCA has five designated colleges within the KCTCS system. They are Big Sandy Community & Technical College, Hazard Community & Technical College, Henderson Community College, Madisonville Community College, and Southeast Community College.
A segment of each of these colleges involved in the KCA project will be dedicated to the education of those individuals who plan to work in the mining industry. The Academy will also work toward the promotion of coal as a viable, economic, and environmentally friendly energy source. KCA is in the vanguard of the movement toward making coal the energy of the future.
For the past fifty years Kentucky has been one of the top three coal producing states. As of 2002, the state produced 131.4 million tons of coal. The energy locked in the rich coal seams of the commonwealth is estimated to last for at least two centuries. This invaluable source of energy will be more in demand as the population continues to expand and the need for more energy continues to increase.
Coal producers understand the need for more and better-trained miners. The surge in the demand for coal has led some companies to reopen closed mines. New mines are being added to help keep up with the increased demands for more energy. With these increases, the shortage of workers could reach a crisis level in a few years. In Kentucky and West Virginia alone, there is an estimated shortage of 4,500 workers.
The establishment of KCA could not have come at a better time. The training of a new generation of miners is among the goals of the Academy. The coal industry will have
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William "Bill" Higginbotham
access to an educational institution that will provide the necessary training to keep the industry competitive. KCA can effectively revitalize the coal industry.
Another goal of the Academy is to eradicate the negative image that continues to plague mining and related industries. "Negativism hurts any industry." Said Dr. William J. Higginbotham, founder of KCA. "The coal industry has suffered from a lack of understanding about what it does for the economy. We have an industry that literally provides the majority of the nation's energy, but many people still view coal as an albatross that needs to be done away with as quickly as possible. The coal industry is an economic Godsend to some areas of Kentucky and West Virginia. Without coal the economy of both states, as well as that of the nation, would be negatively impacted."
Higginbotham's vision for KCA is to help bridge the gap by providing instruction and training for miners in the most efficient ways possible. KCA would not only train miners and mine operators, but also help find solutions to environmental issues, assisting in the creation of an atmosphere of understanding and cooperation between environmentalists and the coal industry. His educational vision goes further than college training for miners. He recently unfolded another revolutionary concept that would continue to educate a new generation of miners. The establishment of Kentucky Junior Coal Academy would begin training and education programs for those interested in becoming a part of the coal industry. Those who wish to enter the industry as soon as they graduate, and would have a chance to have a lucrative career.
KCA has dedicated itself to the promotion of mine safety. The recent tragedies in the mines of Kentucky and West Virginia has created an intense awareness of mine safety issues. Programs devoted to mine safety have, and will continue to be part of the curriculum of KCA. By emphasizing the need for more stringent safety instruction, KCA is leading the way in creating a safer, and more efficient coal industry.
Higginbotham is passionate about coal and its potential, and what KCA can do to assist the industry. He is in a position to know about coal. As both educator, and businessman, Higginbotham is in a unique position to head KCA. He holds a doctorate in higher education, as well as two masters, one of which is an MBA.
During his educational career, he served as CEO of the Morehead State University Foundation, Special Assistant to the President for Development and Alumni Relations, Assistant Dean for Development of the College of Education & Behavioral Sciences and College of Business at Morehead. He also served as Vice President for Development and Public Relations at Pikeville College, and Associate Professor of Education at Pikeville. He helped found the Pikeville College Mining Technology Program.
Outside academia, he created and developed a consulting service for businesses and individuals. Higginbotham started his career in the coal industry with Island Creek Coal Company at Red Jacket, West Virginia, as a contract miner. He later became associated with Ashland Coal in Johnson and Martin Counties in eastern Kentucky. He served as president for MHC, Inc., a coal company that processed hundreds of thousands of tons of coal per year. He also owned and operated the Samoyed Energy Company which directed an extensive underground mine operation. He also was a Visiting Scholar to Beijing, China where he lectured on the role of entrepreneurship.
Recently, Higginbotham has worked with Kentucky state government as the Executive Director of the Kentucky Coal Council, then in the Kentucky Office of Energy as Director of Fossil Fuels and Utility Services. He also served as the Governor of Kentucky's alternative to the Southern States Energy Board (SSEB). He presently serves on SSEB's Committee on Clean Coal and Energy Technology Collaboration.
"The Kentucky Coal Academy is on the cutting edge of the future of the coal industry." said Higginbotham. "We are ready to meet the challenges facing the coal industry. With the correct training and education, we can overcome the obstacles of negativism, the lack of an adequate workforce, and the environmental issues that are of concern to many people. KCA is ready to lead the way in making this country more independent of foreign energy. We have the can do spirit, and we will accomplish what we have set out to do."
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