Coal Miners


Employment Prospects


Approximately 82,830 workers are employed in the U.S. coal mining industry, according to the National Mining Association. Most coal miners work in private industry for mining companies. Some opportunities also exist with federal and state governments. The National Mining Association reports that West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Virgina, Indiana, Alabama, and Illinois are the states with the highest levels of employment of coal miners.

Starting Out

The usual method of entering this field is by direct application to the employment offices of the individual coal mining companies. However, mining machine operators must "come up through the ranks," acquiring the necessary skills on the job.

New employees start as trainees, or "red hats." After the initial training period, they work at routine tasks that do not require much skill, such as shoveling coal onto conveyors. As they gain more experience and become familiar with the mining operations, they are put to work as helpers to experienced machine operators. In this way they eventually learn how to operate the machines themselves.

Coal mining technicians are usually hired by recruiters from major employers before completing their last year of technical school. Industry recruiters regularly visit the campuses of schools with coal mining technician programs and work with the schools' career services officers.

Many two-year graduates take jobs emphasizing basic operational functions. Technicians are then in a position to compete for higher positions, in most cases through the system of job bidding, which considers such factors as formal education, experience, and seniority.

In union mines, when a vacancy occurs and a machine operator job is available, an announcement is posted so that any qualified employee can apply for the position. In most cases the job is given to the person with the most seniority.

Advancement Prospects

Advancement opportunities for coal miners are limited. The usual progression is from trainee to general laborer to machine operator's helper. After acquiring the skills needed to operate the machinery, helpers may apply for machine operator jobs as they become available. All qualified workers, however, compete for those positions, and vacancies are almost always filled by workers with the most seniority. A few coal miners become supervisors, but additional training is required for supervisory and management jobs.

After a period of on-the-job experience, coal mining technicians may become supervisors, sales representatives, or possibly even private consultants or special service contractors.

Technical sales representatives work for manufacturers of mining equipment and supplies and sell such products as explosives, flotation chemicals, rock drills, hoists, crushers, grinding mills, classifiers, materials handling equipment, and safety equipment.

Tips for Entry

Visit the following Web sites for job listings:


Land an entry-level job at a coal mine as a helper to learn about the field and make valuable industry contacts.

Join the United Mine Workers of America and other unions to increase your chances of landing a job and receiving fair pay for your work.

Be willing to relocate. It may open more job opportunities. For example, there are more than 13,000 coal-mining jobs in West Virginia, as opposed to Arkansas, Missouri, and Washington, where there are fewer than 100 industry jobs.