As energy companies shift away from coal to other resources like natural gas, many mining communities face economic collapse. That hit close to home for tech consultant Amanda Laucher when she realized her brother in Greene County, Pennsylvania, the third largest coal-producing region in the country, was at risk of losing his job as a miner at Consol’s Enlow Fork Mine.
“He was giving us a rundown of what was happening in the mining industry,” says Laucher, a seasoned software developer who grew up in Greene County. “His company had several rounds of layoffs and he was very afraid that he was going to be in the next round.”
Laucher and her husband Jonathan Graham, also a tech professional, saw an opportunity to use their skills to help. In 2015, they moved from Chicago to Pittsburgh and founded Mined Minds, a bootcamp-style training program that teaches software developing to former miners and other unemployed workers. What started out as a small class of 10 people coding in a volunteer fire hall has quickly grown into a nonprofit organization that serves mining communities in Western Pennsylvania, including those in the counties of Greene, Washington, Fayette and Allegheny, and in West Virginia.
So far, Mined Minds has trained between 70 and 80 students, a number that includes a mix of miners and their family members, and people working in tangential industries that also suffer when mines go under. To expand their reach, Laucher and Graham partnered with the Community College of Allegheny County, Clarion University, and a TechHire funded class in Pittsburgh, as well as with rural high schools.
“We’re looking at retraining people from the coal mines, but also enabling new career opportunities so young people can stay in the area,” says Graham.
The need to transition former miners into other industries has become a reality in a time when more and more companies are divesting from coal in favor of less expensive energy sources. Since 2011, more than 30,000 American coal miners have lost their jobs, including in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Earlier this week, Consol announced plans to lay off 200 employees at its Bailey coal mine in Greene County.
While Mined Minds offers obvious benefits for many out-of-work miners, Laucher says the program also helps fill a growing need for tech professionals.
“There’s a severe lack of technology talent,” says Laucher. “We’re trying to fill some gaps, and to do it locally is an added benefit.”
Graham adds that the organization will also contribute to building a more diverse tech workforce. He says their students represent various populations, from immigrants and refugees to people on the autism spectrum to age groups ranging from teenagers to one 60-year-old graduate.
“It’s always interesting getting people from such different backgrounds working together in one room,” says Graham.