Company helping to re-train coal miners in computer coding

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BOONE COUNTY, W. Va. (CBS NEWS) President Trump ran on the promise of restoring the coal industry.

While he has started to roll back Obama-era regulations, experts say the increase of natural gas and automation will prevent coal jobs from coming back.

There is a growing effort to bring a brand new industry to Appalachia, computer coding.

Former miners are heading to the classroom, using many of the same skills they used underground.

Boone County, West Virginia sits in the heart of the state's coal country, where coal mining provided work for seven generations of Billy Jack Buzzard's family.

Three years ago, Buzzard lost his job at a coal plant.

"It was horrible. I got laid off, lost my vehicle, lost my house. It was very demeaning. It hurt because I couldn't provide," said Buzzard. "There was no Plan B."

The 29-year-old found one earlier this year, swapping his hard hat, for a laptop.

He was accepted into a free training program called Mined Minds that teaches former coal miners to become computer coders creating apps, websites, and games.

"It was really hard at first to convince people hey, this is a new opportunity for you," Said Mined Mines founder Amanda Laucher.

Laucher and her husband, then tech consultants, taught nearly one dozen miners how to code in Pennsylvania.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin heard about the group and invited them to his state.

Manchin helped Mined Minds establish headquarters near the West Virginia Capitol with federal grants, sparking a new initiative to open coding boot camps across the state, which has an unemployment rate of 4.7%.

Coal miners' wives and children are taking classes too.

Manchin points out modern mining and computer coding have common ground.

Both require math and problem-solving skills, despite what Buzzard calls an insulting stereotype.

"We're not a bunch of idiots out here. We're not a bunch of hillbillies and hill jacks. There are some very smart individuals here. Just because we were in the coal industry doesn't mean we're stupid, you know," Said Buzzard.

Buzzard is confident he'll find work in the tech industry.

His ultimate goal is to help turn his home from coal country to code country.

So far, 80 people have received a computer coding certificate from Mined Mines. West Virginia plans to have six more coding boot camps open by early next year.

If you would like more information on Mined Minds, visit their website at www.minedminds.org.



 
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