The simplistic image of “coal jobs” meaning miners toiling underground is no longer accurate given the increasing automation of the coal industry, according to Bloomberg.
Coal miners no longer swing a pickax or wield a shovel. While coal companies are hiring again, executives are starting to search for workers who can crunch gigabytes of data or use a joystick to maneuver mining vehicles hundreds of miles away…
“Whether coal comes back or not is not necessarily directly related to jobs,” Heath Lovell, a spokesman for coal producer Alliance Resource Partners LP, said in an interview on NPR’s “On Point.” “We should be becoming more and more efficient, which would mean we could produce the same amount of coal with less employees…”
One irony for the industry now is that in some areas the coal companies say they can’t find the high-skilled workers they need. In West Virginia, companies are resorting to offering signing bonuses and fully paid healthcare to poach experienced shift foremen, mechanics and electricians from rivals. Many of those workers left the coal industry during the last decade’s collapse and found more stable employment in other sectors. They aren’t anxious to switch back.