Gov. Kay Ivey has signed an education budget, recently passed by the Alabama Legislature, that includes $950,000 in funding to expand Bevill State Community College's Mine Training Facility to include longwall mining training.
Bevill State is the only college in the state that offers mine technology curriculum.
“Bevill State Community College strives to set the standard of excellence for education, workforce training, partnerships and economic development in our service area," Dr. Kim Ennis, president of Bevill State Community College, said. "The Legislature’s support to expand the training opportunities provided by our mine training program is exemplary of government, education and private industry working together to facilitate economic strength and development."
Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper, said Bevill State's mine training center is a perfect example of how much can be accomplished when the private sector and colleges work together.
"The coal industry is a driving force of our state's economy," he said. "It's an industry that employs thousands of Alabamians. Bevill State's program gives young people the skills they need to earn a good living and support their families.
"I was honored to work with President Ennis to help secure these funds in the state education budget for Bevill State. This was an extremely busy legislative session, and the budget chairmen had a lot to weigh as they wrote the budgets, but I made sure legislators knew how important Bevill State's mine training center is to west Alabama and the entire state. I am very excited to see how this program expands in the coming years."
Longwall mining is a highly productive coal mining technique. The expansion of the mine training center will enable all underground new miner trainees to have a greater understanding of the extraction of the coal process from not only a continuous miner section but longwall mining as well.
Miners will be shown the safest way to handle all aspects of tasks assigned. The focus of the training center is to instruct procedures of how to do the job right, with safety at the forefront. Protecting the health and safety of miners is the number one priority, officials said.
Currently, the training center, located on the BSCC Sumiton campus, has a mock continuous miner section where miners are trained on the safest way to build and maintain all of the necessary equipment. The expansion will give the training center a state-of-the-art mock longwall with all of the necessary equipment and processes, including a modern classroom inside the mine.
The additions to the facility will make the center an incredible training venue for mine rescue team scenarios.
"The Alabama Community College System (ACCS) is grateful for the Alabama Legislature's support of the education and workforce training programs our colleges provide across the state. Bevill State's Mine Technology Program is a key example of our successful efforts to work directly with industry to provide valuable, real-world training that prepares our students to be job ready on day one," stated ACCS Chancellor Jimmy Baker. "This additional funding will ensure that Bevill's students continue to train on state-of-the-art equipment that mirrors the industry standard and ensures a smooth transition from classroom to industry.”
"This funding will expand one of our state's most successful workforce development programs," Patrick Cagle, president of the Alabama Coal Association, said. "We appreciate the leadership of our legislative delegation who worked with the budget chairs and Governor Ivey to secure the resources that will make our mine training center one of the most advanced in the country.”
The expansion of this program will allow for training in an industry that currently provides high demand, high wage workforce opportunities.
“Met coal is a Made in Alabama product that is quietly helping fuel our state’s economic engine,” Cagle said. “The industry’s impact is irreplaceable, from the thousands of high-paying jobs at underground met coal mines in the Tuscaloosa and Jefferson County area to generating almost half the revenue at Alabama’s Port.”
Met coal exports accounted for 80 percent of Alabama’s total coal production in 2018, while steam coal accounted for the rest. The state has large reserves of both steam and high-quality met coal, with underground coal miners in the state enjoying a starting salary of $85,000.
Larry Spencer, international vice president for District 20 of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), which includes the entire state of Alabama, said this was exciting news.
"The United Mine Workers of America represents over 1,500 workers at four mines across Alabama, and our number one priority is the safety of each worker. Bevill State's Mine Training Center plays an essential role in Alabama's coal economy, from the annual training offered to veteran coal miners, to the intensive training programs offered for workers just entering the field," Spencer said.
"Sen. Greg Reed has been a champion for Alabama's coal miners. There isn't a better friend in state government to the coal industry than Sen. Reed, and I appreciate him working to secure these resources to expand Bevill State's Mine Training Center," he said.