PRESTONSBURG – Michael Preston, of Stanville, started an electrical degree program in 1997, when he was 18-years-old, but dropped out after the coal industry came knocking.
Preston said, “I didn’t take [school] seriously. I was a young kid.” When he found out about opportunities in the coal industry he jumped at the chance to go to work. “I thought if I can make this big money in the coal industry, I don’t need to finish school.”
After working as a driller in the coal industry for 16 years, Preston was laid off from his job in August of 2014.
Preston said that after being laid off, he had to take a look at the different options available to him. “I was a little bit worried at first, but it didn’t take me long to figure out what I needed to do, which was go back to school,” he said.
Preston started on his path back to school at the Office of Employment and Training in Prestonsburg, where he was able to gather his unemployment benefits and find the resources available to him. He then made the trip to Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC) to find out how he could go about getting enrolled.
BSCTC told Preston about the Hiring Our Miners Everyday (HOME) program and connected him with Big Sandy Area Community Action Program (BSACAP) Career Advisors Anita Lykins and Sandy Grimm. The HOME program, created by the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP), assists former coal industry workers and their spouses to receive educational and workforce opportunities which can help them transition to new work.
Preston said that Lykins and Grimm “took the time to explain what was available to me as a laid-off miner. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to go back to school. They help people more than anything.”
With the assistance of BSACAP and the HOME program, Preston was able to enroll at BSCTC in the same month that he was laid off. Even though the semester had already begun, he was allowed to enroll a week and a half after classes began. While attending classes, Preston was able to receive his unemployment benefits and get assistance with the books and supplies he needed to complete his electrical degree.
Preston said he noticed the differences between his younger classmates and himself. “When you’re younger, you don’t have to do it. But when you’re older, and you have kids and a family, you take it a lot more seriously,” he said. “I wanted to finish what I started and I know there is a demand for the skill set.”
In May of this year, Preston earned his electrical degree at BSCTC, 19 years after he started it.
Now Preston is looking toward the future and searching for a company that will be the right fit for him. “I’m looking forward to finding a company that will let me get my foot in the door, show my experience, and get some more experience. It will take off from there.”
Preston said he hopes that others in the area who find themselves in a similar situation will seek out the HOME program and other services available to them. “It’s a great thing. I wish more people would use that tool to help them better themselves because it’s out there for them.”