No matter one’s opinion on the coal industry in eastern Kentucky, the fact remains that more and more coal jobs are being lost and more and more people have to find a way to keep their families and themselves going.
Greg Castle, of Staffordsville, found himself in just such a position. After working for seven years as a coal truck driver, Castle was laid off in October of 2013. He said his company used to run 60 or more coal trucks at one time, but the numbers steadily dwindled over the years. “Within them last two years, we were laid off a couple of times. And this time, it was the end of it. We were the last 12 to get laid off,” he said.
The financial strain of moving from among the best paying jobs in the region to unemployment benefits took its toll on Castle, who is a husband and a father to three children. “It was real tough not to purchase shoes and stuff like you usually do for your kids. You have to look at them with little raggedy shoes for a while. It didn’t hurt them, but as a parent you want to give them the best and it’s hard to do that when you’re not making it.”
Castle said he knew that he had to find another job and began his search with the Office of Employment and Training. While there, he was connected with Big Sandy Area Community Action Program Career Advisors Sandy Grimm and Anita Lykins, who told him about the opportunities available through Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program’s Hiring Our Miners Everday (HOME) program.
The HOME program assists former coal industry workers and their spouses to receive educational and workforce opportunities which can help them transition to new work.
“Sandy Grimm came in to talk to us and the next thing you know I’m taking tests the same day. I was enrolled in school within a week,” Castle explained. With the assistance of WIOA and the HOME Program, Castle began to pursue an electrical degree through Big Sandy Community and Technical College.
He said that the idea of returning to school after many years in the workforce was “terrifying,” but that he wanted something more for himself and his family. “I also wanted to show my kids because they had been telling me that they couldn’t go to school. I wanted to show them it’s possible,” Castle said.
Through HOME, Castle was able to attend school, receive help with getting the books and supplies he needed to earn his degree, and keep his unemployment benefits. Once his unemployment benefits were exhausted, he was able to receive monthly needs-based payment assistance while he was in school.
After two years at BSCTC, Castle finished his electrical degree and graduated in May with academic honors, military honors, Pi Theta Kappa National Honor Society honors, and Skills USA honors.
Castle said, “All the instructors at [BSCTC] were good to me. They helped me at every turn.” In addition to his electrical degree, Castle has signed up for the last two classes he needs to finish out his industrial maintenance degree, a decision that has helped him land a job in Skills Maintenance at Toyota, where he will begin in July.
Castle credits his forward momentum to the help he received through the HOME program. “I think it’s an excellent program. Without them, it would have been a nightmare. It was tough already, but without the HOME Program, I don’t know how I would have done it. I’d advise anybody that is having trouble in the coal business here to ask for help through the HOME program and hold on and don’t quit.”
The future is looking brighter for Castle, who said, “I’m looking forward to going to work. My goal is to come back and teach someday, to give back to what has been given to me.”
Hiring Our Miners Everyday assists laid-off coal industry workers and their spouses to receive on-the-job training, classroom training, basic academic skills, certification/licensing, skilled apprenticeships, and other services. HOME was created by Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP) with a two-year National Emergency Grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. The program is open to the residents and employers who meet the grant specifications.
Big Sandy Area Community Action Program is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing a vast array of services, such as employment and training assistance, weatherization of homes, and area Head Start programs, in order to assist individuals and families in obtaining self-sufficiency. Through collaborative efforts of community and organizational partnerships, BSACAP seeks to improve the overall quality of life within the Floyd, Johnson, Martin, Magoffin, and Pike County communities. To learn more about BSACAP and their programs, visit www.bsacap.org or call (606) 789-3641.