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Grant helps laid-off mine workers receive skills training, job opportunities

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Chris Armstrong received job training thanks to a federal grant for dislocated mine workers. Chris Armstrong received job training thanks to a federal grant for dislocated mine workers.

The State of West Virginia is aiming to help displaced mine workers and their family members receive job training and re-employment opportunities through a federal grant.

The Mountain State received $1.8 million from the U.S. Department of Labor to provide training services to mine workers laid off after March 1, 2012. Originally, the money was intended for employees who received WARN notices from their mines during massive layoffs.

WorkForce West Virginia, the organization administering the grant, recently extended requirements to include workers released from smaller companies that did not issue WARN notices. Eligible candidates can apply until the end of 2014.

The grant provides $5,000 for skills training, in addition to a daily allowance whenever that person receives schooling. The $20 daily stipend covers transportation, food, and child care expenses.

"It's a chance for them to upgrade skills that they have now or to move on and do something totally different," said Valerie Comer, the deputy executive director of WorkForce West Virginia. The training focuses on high-demand vocations, such as commercial truck driving, mechanical work, and a variety of jobs in the health field.

Family members of displaced workers can also apply for the grant, especially if they were dependent on the income of their loved one.

"Some people are afraid to reach out for help," Comer said. "Sometimes they've been in a job for a long time, and they're just afraid to move on."

Chris Armstrong is one of 158 individuals who has received help from the National Emergency Grant.

Armstrong, 21, of Charleston, lost his job at Progress Coal Company, a surface mine, in 2012.

"I thought I was going to be there for the rest of my life," he said. "I was nervous where I was going to get another job, for sure."

Armstrong applied for unemployment and gave his information to Workforce WV. The United Mine Workers Association also provided him with support and job training. Six months ago, he landed a job with the city of Charleston as a line technician.

"Oh there's definitely hope," he said. "The mine isn't all people know. Trust me."

He said the money he received while searching for a job helped him immensely.

"Having that extra money while I was trying to get a job, yeah, that benefited me a whole lot because life is not cheap," Armstrong said.

The mechanical skills Armstrong used at the surface mine helped him transition into his new role with the city. It's his job to ensure equipment runs properly, especially the salt trucks and plows as winter nears. As part of his training, he received a Commercial Driver's License.

"I could retire here a very happy man, " Armstrong said.

The next information session will be held at Summersville City Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 5 between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m., then again between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

To apply, visit your nearest WorkForce WV office or call 1-800-252-JOBS.

The UMWA Career Center can be reached at 1-877-798-8692.

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