September 17, 2022 - With mining industry representatives and experts gathered in one place, the Bluefield Coal and Mining Show is providing a classroom of sorts for area students, offering a real-life glimpse into the professions associated with mining.
The 2022 show wrapped up Friday afternoon, but plans are in the works for more opportunities for area students during the next shows.
John Meadows, who is a contract instructor through the McDowell County Career and Technical Center, was at the show with students this week.
The chance to talk with industry professionals and see first-hand the equipment they could be using is invaluable to them, he said.
"I can show them videos in class and explain what equipment they will be using," he said. "But once they get to see the equipment, sit down on the equipment, I can explain to them how it works. The people at the coal show explain as well and they do a great job."
For example, Meadows said the seven students (including high school students and some adults) he teaches in his mine training classes were not at all familiar with diesel equipment and had never been around it.
But at the coal show they saw it first-hand and learned all about it from the people at the show.
"They understand diesel now," he said. "When I teach a class it doesn't help all that much when they go underground. But when they see the equipment they get the concept of what it is, how it is operated, and it is a big help for them."
Meadows, an experienced miner who is certified in "about all areas of mining," said he has seen a renewed interest in the profession.
"The students are interested and some adults are ready to change fields and go into mining," he said, which is a profession that pays very well.
Meadows, who is a Certified Underground and Surface Mine Trainer and Certified Refresher Course Mine Trainer, said he worked with the Mine Safety and Health Administration to get approval to bring students to the coal show.
"They were happy to let us go," he said, adding that the coal show organizers are "very good to us."
Meadows said he is looking forward to future coal shows. "I wish they would come around every day."
Bluefield State University has been involved with many coal shows, with a volunteer program that gives students a chance to work at the show and talk to many industry representatives.
During this week's show, which wrapped up Friday afternoon, BSU students set up and manned the registration desk.
But the involvement will be taking on a new purpose in the future since the university is bringing back its mining engineering degree program.
"We're excited about that," said Robert "Bob" Ramsey, coal show General Chair and owner of Peters Equipment and Ramsey Industrials.
Ramsey said the announcement was made recently, with Gov. Jim Justice in attendance.
That event, which was also a fundraiser for the program, was held at the Fincastle and Justice praised BSU for bringing back the mining engineering program.
Justice called BSU an "incredible" school that is doing something to bring engineers into the mining industry, and it's a good time to do that.
"I believe we have a real live future in front of us," he said of the coal industry.
Chris Hamilton, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, was also in attendance at the announcement.
"We are really excited about this," he said. "A lot of our member companies are excited about it ...This program epitomizes their support for the industry and for the community... We are really proud to work with them."
Hamilton, who was also at the coal show this week, said the Coal Association is in "100 percent, and we are prepared to provide resources and technical advice, whatever is needed to make the engineering program successful."
Now is a great time fo the coal industry, he added, with high quality met (metallurgical) coal in demand.
"These (met coal) reserves are going to be here for a long time," he said, and Bluefield State can provide the needed engineers in every capacity as coal will boost West Virginia's economy "for many decades to come."
Dr. Sudhakar Jamkhandi, English professor and director of international studies at BSU, said the coal show is a great opportunity
"This is the time I cultivate relationships," Jamkhandi said of his visits to the coal show, adding that the show can give students internship opportunities.
"They are interested in our guys," he said. "This is a great opportunity for them to mingle and start that initial conversation."
Jamkhhandi said the other aspect of why he goes to the coal show is international, with companies attending the coal show from several countries.
"Coal mining is universal," he said. "It's never going to to go away. It's always going to be needed."
Several of the company representatives at the coal show were Bluefield State graduates, including Josh Burns, senior sales engineer with Komatsu.
"We are trying to do some more internships here," he said. "I have reached out to Bluefield State a few times and tried to recruit, bring people in to the field service program."
Conn-Weld Industries, a Princeton-based company that manufactures custom-designed screening and separation equipment for mining/aggregate and other industries, was also at the coal show.
The company already has an active recruitment program in local colleges as well as vocational-technical centers and schools.
Marvin Woodie, a mechanical engineer and company president as well as a McDowell County native, said he saw what happened to Southern West Virginia with the decline of the coal industry and he and the company are working to keep youth here to live and work.
They go to the schools in the area, secondary and elementary schools as well as vocational/technical schools and colleges, he said, to talk to students about the opportunities at Conn-Weld and in the industry.
"We are going to all the students and ask them what they want, what they want to do," he said, and they are told of the resources in this area. "We are getting a huge response."
Woodie said the company works with students on various projects to get them involved, including summer internships and apprenticeships.
"We want to keep these kids in West Virginia," he said. "They spend money on an education and then they leave."
Woodie said he did a presentation with students at the Mercer County Technical Education Center about needed skill jobs like welders, electricians and machinists and received a good reception.
In fact, on the a visit to the nearby mercantile facility used by students he was so impressed with the work of a Bluefield High School student he hired him to help promote the company on social media.
"He started using a drone to film our business inside and out and starting doing some marketing things on social media we had never thought of," Woodie said. "He is a great addition."
The company has offered to pay for his education as long he "comes back and works for us."
Woodie is also working with Bluefield State on its new mining engineering program.
"We need that program," he said, adding that Bluefield State in the past provided a great education for many McDowell County residents and he wants to see that revitalized.
"We want to hire people," he said. "We want to grow the business. It's exciting."