Some people move away from Eastern Kentucky to find work. Others make the best of the job situation where they are.
“I always said I was a victim of geography, meaning I was taking advantage of what we had in the area, and coal has always sustained a lot of people here,” said Pike Countian Kenny Fleming.
Coal sustained Kenny for more than three decades. There had been some hard times before, but in 2011 and 2012, things took a turn for the worse.
First he was laid off from his job as an underground miner at Hubble Mining. Then his wife found out she had breast cancer. He spent months driving her back and forth to Lexington for treatment, and then he would spend the next few days driving her back and forth to her job at a local car dealership because she was too weak to drive herself.
“One day I went to pick her up from work and I thought, ‘It’s taking her a long time to come out,’” Kenny said. “When she came out, she was carrying a box and she said, ‘I guess we have something in common. They just laid me off, too.’”
Soon, Kenny’s unemployment benefits ran out and the couple had to live on his wife’s unemployment alone. With her sick and unable to search for a job, her unemployment was cut for several weeks because she refused to play the system and tell the unemployment office she was looking for work when she wasn’t physically able to do it.
Kenny had to do something. That’s when he learned about the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program’s HOME initiative.
HOME stands for Hiring Our Miners Everyday. Funded by a National Emergency Grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, HOME helps laid-off miners and their spouses by paying for on-the-job training, classroom training, basic academic skills, certification and licensing, skilled apprenticeships and other job services.
“I had been on unemployment for over a year, and through the unemployment office, I saw HOME advertised, and then my oldest daughter mentioned it to me, too,” Kenny said.
Kenny went to EKCEP’s Kentucky Career Center JobSight office in Pikeville and enrolled in HOME Now, HOME is covering the costs for him to attend training at Digital Communications Services in Lexington to become a telecommunications installer.
He’s about halfway through the three-month course, which will teach him to wire homes and businesses for telecommunications and computer services.
“I know information and computers are never going to go away, so this is something that will be around for the long haul,” Kenny said. “I’m 54 years old and I’ve worked underground for 33 years. I figured that’s what I’d be doing until the day I died, but with this I’m hoping I’ll be able to put in more years because this is a job that doesn’t take a physical toll on you like coal mining does.”
DCS is already having employers come to the school to interview students, and Kenny is hopeful that means he’ll have a job ready and waiting when his training is complete—even if it means going somewhere else for a few months.
Melissa Williams, Pike County JobSight Coordinator for EKCEP, said nationwide telecommunications installer and repair jobs pay $25 to $26 per hour. Wages are somewhat lower in Eastern Kentucky, but the field is expected to see a 15 percent increase in the number of jobs here between 2008 and 2018.
Leaving the area concerns Kenny, but with the expected demand for workers in the industry, he knows he will be able to return home.
“I’m hoping this will provide for me and my wife. My kids are grown, my youngest one’s married now, but we’ve still got a big obligation. We’ve got a house we bought about five years ago that we could afford then, but we can’t afford now. I’m hoping this will pull us out,” he said.
Once it does, he hopes he can start his own business in telecommunications in Pike County. It’s a dream he thinks is within reach because the overhead for installer businesses is low, and big changes are coming in the industry soon.
While homes are now wired with copper for their telecommunications needs, copper is already being replaced with high-speed fiber optics in cities. With increased availability comes of high-speed Internet comes more jobs, and more demand for telecommunications. It’s a trend that is spreading across the country.
“It’s like any other technology,” Kenny said. “When a technology comes on the scene it’s more expensive, but now fiber optic is coming down close to cable.”
With the training he receives through HOME program, Kenny hopes he can help it spread the technology and its benefits close to his own home.
For more information on how to enroll in HOME, contact EKCEP toll-free at 1-855-HOME-690 (1-855-466-3690). Also visit us online at www.homeeky.com or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ekcep.