INA - Rend Lake College is preparing to bring back coal-intensive courses geared to train workers for the bright resurgence of mining in southern Illinois.
For a decade, RLC was a leader in producing qualified coal miners for a booming industry. Coal mining classes at RLC were stretched to seven days a week, 12 months a year, to supply the demand for skilled workers. That changed in 1985 as the coal industry began a slow descent from its kingly throne in southern Illinois.
More than two decades later, the king returns with eight new mining operations slated for southern Illinois alone - four within the RLC district - and a pressing need for qualified individuals to fill positions. And years after pulling many courses from the college schedule, RLC administrators are diligently declaring a recall of those courses and pursuing new programs to train individuals on state-of-the-art technology used in modern mining operations.
The resurgence of the Illinois coal industry will demand 50,000 workers over the next five to 10 years, according to Trudee Wynn, Resource Development Specialist at RLC. Now is the time and Rend Lake College is the place to begin training for those jobs.
Through investment and development, corporations such as Peabody Energy, Power Holdings and Mach Mining are paving the way to more jobs in southern Illinois.
Peabody Energy is the world’s largest private-sector coal company, with 2005 sales of 240 million tons and $4.6 billion in revenues. The coal-industry giant, owns more mineral reserves in Illinois than any other mining company and has recently secured a federal Environmental Protection Agency air permit needed to go ahead with a proposed $2 billion coal energy campus in Lively Grove, within Washington County. The project is estimated to create approximately 2,500 construction jobs and 450 skilled, permanent jobs in Illinois as well as pump $100 million into the state economy.
Power Holdings announced in May that it will use 1,000 employees, over an approximate three-year period, to construct a $1 billion syngas production plant. Also, the company’s CEO, Bob Gilpin, announced that the completed facility will need approximately 150 full-time employees for operation and the adjacent coal mine will require 300 new miners.
The two projects combined mean approximately 3,500 construction jobs, 600 full-time positions and 300 mining positions coming to the area.
Another sign of coal’s comeback came with Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s announcement of a comprehensive, long-term plan to replace Illinois’ dependence on foreign oil with homegrown alternatives; such as corn, soybeans and coal; by 2017.
Illinois’ vast coal reserves are one-eighth of the nation’s coal reserves, one-quarter of U.S. bituminous reserves and cover 65 percent of the state’s surface.
Bituminous coal is a “medium” grade of coal, as one expert put it. The harder a piece of coal is, the hotter it burns and the more energy it produces. Anthracite is the hardest, followed by bituminous. Some operations are combining bituminous coal with anthracitic coal to produce a more efficiently burning product.
Because of escalating oil prices, syngas and other coal operations are becoming more and more economical and mining coal is becoming a plausible option to oil. The Illinois Finance Authority currently has up to $2.7 billion in bonds to fund coal and energy projects. Premier, affordable clean coal technology reduces harmful emissions into the atmosphere and makes coal mining a viable, alternative energy source for the state as well as the nation.
In addition to industry giants, new companies are investing in the future of Illinois coal mining. Mach Mining, a division of Line Resources based in the eastern U.S., just opened a mining operation in Johnston City and will have at least one operation near Akin, according to RLC Applied Science and Technology Division Chair Dr. Sarah Bond. The mining operations will be supported by companies that specialize in providing services to the mines.
Some mining-intensive courses on the horizon for the college are courses in welding, hydraulics and diesel mechanics as well as programs to train students on new technology found in modern mining operations, according to Bond.
“The students will be getting specialized training that will make the industry more productive and efficient and a safer environment,” she said.
When eight coal mines were located inside the RLC district, the college boasted 22 full-time faculty members devoted strictly to coal miner training, according to Wynn. The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 forced numerous mines to close and, with them, the miner training program at RLC.
It is expected that 40 percent of the 3,200 miners in 22 existing mines throughout the state will retire within five years. An additional 25 to 30 percent are anticipated to reach retirement within the next decade. That means at least 2,080 mining positions will need to be replaced by 2016.
Also, at least 2,800 mining positions are anticipated to be needed at new facilities in Waltonville, Lively Grove, Johnston City, Akin, Hillsboro, Zeigler, Marissa, Coulterville and Harrisburg. That figure does not include specialty maintenance workers, office personnel, or spin-off jobs created when a new coal mine opens.
It is estimated that as many as 50,000 total jobs will be available between replacing retiring workers, hiring new workers, hiring special-skill workers, and the related spin-off jobs that are created when industries increase production and employment, according to Wynn.
One of RLC’s goals is to meet the employment training needs of the coal companies, so they have qualified individuals available to them when they are ready to hire. Another is to enhance the safety of the coal mining resurgence by providing trained, qualified individuals to replace the massive number of coal miners who will be reaching retirement age in the next 5-10 years.
Individuals interested in the future of mining programs at RLC can call the college’s Applied Science and Technology Division at 618-437-5321, Ext. 1261 or 1-800-369-5321, Ext. 1261 (in-district only). The college will update the public about exciting additions planned in RLC’s coal mining program as they are made available.