Rend Lake College is taking steps to ready for the resurgence in the Illinois coal industry.
The college was recently represented by Applied Science and Technology Division Chair Dr. Sarah Bond, Industrial Maintenance Professor Chris Nielsen and Mining Professor D.J. Johnson at the 114th meeting of the Illinois Mine Institute in Springfield.
The rallying coal industry is creating change in the southern Illinois job market and, more immediately, in the Rend Lake College district. With RLC coal-intensive classes on the back burner since the early-1980s, the college is gearing to once again offer a leading curriculum that will effectively train mining manpower for the next decade or longer.
“It’s important that we get back in the ballgame,” Nielsen said.
At the IMI meeting, the trio met with representatives of mining operations as well as the corporations who provide services to the mines. In speaking with industry representatives, they were able to survey their interests in order to correctly configure courses at RLC that will be expected to meet the training needs of the operations, the industry and RLC students, according to Bond and Nielson.
After attending the IMI meeting, they said the college has better knowledge of the needs of the industry and is preparing to once again offer courses in mining training, annual retraining, electrical training and specialized training, as well as other areas that will serve the coal industry.
Johnson is well-known in the Illinois mining industry. He started his nine-years as a miner when he was only 19 years old. He has been very active with mining in the state for many years and speaks annually at mining conferences. Johnson has attended IMI annual meetings for about the last 30 years. At one time, he served on the IMI’s Executive Board.
“D.J. carries the flag for Rend Lake College in mining,” Nielsen said.
With 30 percent of the mining workforce expected to retire within the next five years, Johnson mentioned the likelihood of gainful employment on the horizon.
“There is going to be a shortage of young miners,” he said.
To bring back the coal mining technology program pulled from the RLC catalog in the early 1980s, the college would need to hire additional instructors, according to Johnson. The agenda for the Sept. 12 meeting of the RLC Board of Trustees includes an item asking the board’s permission to create the position of a new mining instructor and advertise for that position.
Johnson said attendance at the IMI meetings had dwindled until this year. He said the participants of the 2006 meeting were “upbeat.”
The first meeting of the IMI was held in Springfield more than 114 years ago. The organization is a group of entities in the industry who develop technical programs, newsletters, advertising, scholarship support, leadership for manpower training and collaborate with organizations such as Illinois Mine Rescue. Led by President John Henrikson of the Illinois Association of Aggregate Producers, the IMI’s mission is to promote mining industries through technical support, education and information transfer.
The educational aspect of IMI’s goal is where Rend Lake College comes into play.
Some mining-intensive courses mentioned by Bond and Nielsen as being on the horizon for RLC are courses in welding, hydraulics and diesel mechanics as well as programs to train students on new technology found in modern mining operations.
“The students will be getting specialized training that will make the industry more productive and efficient and a safer environment,” Bond said.
“The mining industry in Illinois has went through the doldrums over the last 20 years,” Nielsen said. “It was going more and more downhill. Hopefully, we have seen the bottom of it.”