With the imminent loss of a significant number of workers looming, many in the local energy industry are focusing on developing enhanced education and training programs. Topping said Utah can create a world-class learning and training model by using state of the art simulators and technology similar to that used in flight instruction, allowing workers to experience various problem mining situations in a virtual environment. This would help workers improve their decision-making abilities and develop situation-based hands-on competency in their jobs resulting in enhanced safety, he said.
But Topping admitted all that training and education would be meaningless if the state cannot figure out a way to increase recruitment of qualified candidates.
He said another part of the difficulty of getting more people into energy jobs is convincing families to move to the small towns that are typically home to mining operations. Too often, he said, talented people take the good-paying mining jobs, make the money then leave, which has to change in order for the industry to remain viable.
"The communities have to embrace this new diverse population that's coming in and set up the infrastructure to support that. The schools, highways, and cultural activities that support families coming and making the investment to stay here."
In order to get families to commit, Topping and other energy industry advocates said the state will have to make its own commitment to invest in the needed education and training programs.
"To run this mining program, we're going to need $1.5 to $2 million," he said.
Currently, those dollars are provided through a federal grant, but ideally the entire amount would come from the state, he said. Topping said federal dollars require more time, red tape, and resources that could be better spent on Utah's workers. The commission said it would consider making a funding recommendation to the governor and lawmakers, but did not specify a particular amount.
On Tuesday, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced Utah is one of seven recipients of a total of $500,000 in grant funds for education and training at underground coal mines. The College of Eastern Utah will receive $54,000 for mine emergency training.CEU vice president of workforce education Miles Nelson said the state already receives $166,113 from MSHA to fund certification training and safety programs for Utah miners. That funding amount is based the number of miners in the state.
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