Partnership with EKCEP and SilverLiner Allows Former Coal Miner to Dig Himself Out of Hard Times and Into a Bright Welding Career

Twenty-three years—that’s how many years Pike Countian Chris Compton dedicated to a job he thought he’d retire from at a coal company just 30 minutes from his house. That retirement plan was shattered in February 2016, however, when the company Compton worked for issued mass layoffs and his number was up.

“That’s the lifestyle living here—if you didn’t work in the coal industry then you had to go somewhere else,” Compton explains. “We couldn’t really go to another coal company that was close that was paying what they were paying, so it made it kind of hard.”

“Your bills are still coming in, so you have to make ends meet somehow,” he adds.

Clad in a work shirt embellished with his name on the left side and the SilverLiner logo on the right, Compton tells his story while sitting in the offices of his new employer, but his weathered hands make it obvious this is not his usual position in the company—a position that was a long road to get to, he says.

After his layoff from the coal industry, Compton says he hunted for work to help provide for his family, as his unemployment benefits just weren’t enough at the time. “Odd jobs here and there” helped keep he and his family afloat for nearly eight months until he finally got a call back from the local hospital for an available position in the receiving department.

“We received everything from FedEx and UPS, all freight, and received it into the hospital,” he says, illustrating the movement with his hands. “But it was nowhere near the kind of paying job like the coal industry, which there was no other job like that in Eastern Kentucky that we could have.”

Compton admits he believed that would be the case for the rest of his working life. His hopes were sparked, however, when he heard of the new opportunity with SilverLiner coming to his hometown.

By the end of 2017, a new manufacturing company called SilverLiner had announced that it would build a new facility in Pike County and needed to hire nearly 50 people with welding experience. Those chosen would then go on to complete further training in aluminum welding thanks to a partnership with the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP), Inc. and the Hazard and Big Sandy Community and Technical Colleges.

“I heard about it on the news and then kind of looked it up on the internet and then went from there,” Compton says. “I figured from the work ethic that we came from and the way we were raised that it would be something that I liked to do.”

Compton was one of nearly 3,000 people who submitted their application and waited to hear back from the company. By February 2018, Compton had gotten the phone call he’d been hoping for.

“I got a phone call that said we’re going to do like a 10-minute interview with you,” Compton says, adding that after the interview he had to take an assessment at Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC) to see if he was eligible for the training.

In order to attract an adequate workforce, SilverLiner owner Chris Tomlinson turned to EKCEP’s employer services staff. In addition to providing nearly $100,000 in funding for the training, boots, tools, and supplies for the classes, EKCEP staff assisted with promotions, assessments, and other needs as Compton and his fellow students began a 12-week aluminum welding course at BSCTC, with further training with the company possible after graduation.

EKCEP Industry Liaison Trish Adams was integral in fostering the relationship between SilverLiner and EKCEP.

“We were able to quickly find qualified candidates for SilverLiner, and have since seen an immense return on our investment in these individuals,” Adams says. “These guys have worked very hard to get where they are now, and each one of them are ensured a fabulous job opportunity with a new, locally owned employer, upon completion of a very intensive training and, of course, passing all benchmarks.”

The classwork began in March 2018, and Compton says he was more than ready for it.

“I was still working at the time, and they kind of worked the schedule so that if you were working you could get there,” he explains.

Four days a week, Compton would get off work at 3:30 p.m. and drive to the Paintsville BSCTC campus nearly an hour and a half away. Once the class let out at 9 p.m., Compton would make the long trek back home to restart that process the following day.

“It was a tough 12 weeks, but I’m glad I did it and it turned out,” he adds.

Though the training class was a fast-track course to get the welders ready in the shortest time possible, Compton says it was very in-depth and helped him and his classmates prepare for the work that lay ahead.

“It was real exciting once we’d gotten through the class. Chris (Tomlinson) had kind of sat down after the assessment to get the feel to where we were at,” Compton recalls. “He sat down and talked with me and said, you know it’ll be greener on the other side if you take this class—and it’s worked out.”

Compton and the other trainees are currently finishing up training on-site at the SilverLiner temporary site in Pike County. The permanent facility is set to open in late-2018 or early-2019 in the Kentucky Enterprise Industrial Park.

Life for Compton is looking up since that fateful day he decided to look into SilverLiner.

“It’s getting better. It’s getting to where you can actually afford to get out and do something,” he says. “Before you couldn’t, and hopefully in the future it’ll get better.”

Compton adds he’s sure his life would look starkly different had he never made this endeavor.

“I’d probably be doing a lot of travelling, I’d say, because I’d have probably went back to the mines in the coal industry, but you have to drive two hours to get to one from where we’re at here in Pike County,” Compton says.

With his future looking brighter than he could have hoped for just one year ago, Compton is bursting with praise and gratitude toward his new employer.

“I’d just like to thank SilverLiner for giving me the opportunity to show them what I can do and what I can learn,” he says with a grin.” You’re never too old to learn something.”

EKCEP, a nonprofit workforce development agency headquartered in Hazard, Ky., serves the citizens of 23 Appalachian coalfield counties. The agency provides an array of workforce development services, administers the Hiring Our Miners Everyday (H.O.M.E.) program for dislocated coal miners and their spouses, and is the White House-designated lead organization for the federal TechHire designation for Eastern Kentucky. Learn more about us at http://www.ekcep.org, http://www.jobsight.org, and http://www.facebook.com/ekcep.