Chris Sexton, a former Letcher County coal miner who has retrained and re-entered the workforce with help from the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program’s (EKCEP) Hiring Our Miners Everyday (H.O.M.E.) jobs initiative, was publicly recognized at a forum on long-term unemployment at the White House on Friday.
Sexton was invited to the “Opportunity for All: Ready to Work” forum along with his wife, Chrissy, and EKCEP Executive Director Jeff Whitehead. The event, held in the East Room of the White House, focused on long-term unemployment and developing a more skilled and competitive workforce.
It also included an announcement from President Obama as he signed an initiative to put forward $150 million in ready-to-work partnerships to support collaboration between local government, businesses and nonprofits like EKCEP and other workforce organizations to help workers obtain skills to make them successful in the workforce.
Following the president’s remarks, Thomas E. Perez, secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, personally introduced Sexton at the event along with a small panel of other workers who re-entered the workforce after extended layoffs through the assistance of Workforce Investment Act (WIA) services and related federal jobs initiatives.
Those services are administered in 23 coalfields counties by EKCEP through its Kentucky Career Center JobSight network of workforce centers.
“Chris comes from a family of coal miners,” Sec. Perez said after having Sexton stand to be recognized. “It’s been a generational — not just a vocation but an avocation — for Chris and his family.
“Regrettably, in 2012 Chris was laid off,” Perez continued. “He didn’t expect it, but it came, and Chris, like so many residents in Eastern Kentucky and across this country, got back on his feet.”
In addition to the president and Sec. Perez, other dignitaries also in attendance during the event included Vice President Joe Biden, Commerce Sec. Penny Pritzker, presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett, White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Munoz, and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling.
A resident of Letcher County, Sexton followed in his father and older brother’s footsteps — becoming a coal miner right out of high school. During his 13 years in mining, he found time to become certified as an emergency medical technician and firefighter, even rising to volunteer fire chief at his local fire department.
Sexton was also one of approximately 2,000 coal-related workers laid off in Eastern Kentucky in 2012, the same year EKCEP initiated the H.O.M.E. initiative in response to repeated rounds of mass layoffs in the regional coal industry. According to state energy estimates, the coal industry downturn has now claimed in the neighborhood of 8,000 jobs since January 2012.
Funded by a $5.2 million National Emergency Grant (NEG) from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, H.O.M.E. helps laid-off miners and their spouses by paying for on-the-job training, classroom training, basic academic skills, certification and licensing, skilled apprenticeships and other job placement services.
Sexton reinvented himself by pursuing a new, full-time career in emergency health-care services. He turned to EKCEP and H.O.M.E. for financial assistance with tuition, books and other fees for paramedic training at Hazard Community and Technical College.
“It was time to get out of coal mining, and this program was a saving grace,” he said.
Though jobless after his layoff through the early portion of his paramedic training, Sexton was hired by the Perry County Ambulance Authority in July 2013 to work as an emergency medical technician. He will pursue full-time employment as a paramedic upon completion of that training in early 2014.
“It is an example of the ‘stick-to-itiveness’ that we see all across this country,” Sec. Perez said of Sexton.
Nearly 2,000 former miners like Sexton have turned to EKCEP and H.O.M.E. for help in navigating the process of reconnecting to the workforce. Of that total, the initiative has helped more than 500 enter classroom or on-the-job training and work internships, and helped nearly 500 others already find new jobs.
EKCEP Executive Director Jeff Whitehead said the H.O.M.E. initiative is playing a critical role in providing a route back to work for region’s coal miners affected by the downturn in coal.
“Without the support of the U.S. Department of Labor in the efforts and tactics stemming from our H.O.M.E. NEG, these very capable workers would essentially be lost without a ‘safety net’ in this rediscovery process and getting reconnected to the workforce,” Whitehead said. “EKCEP and H.O.M.E. fully support the U.S. Department of Labor in all such NEG efforts, as they represent far more than just a complement to Unemployment Insurance.
“Rather, they are a vital component in helping people recover from these unprecedented difficult times in Eastern Kentucky,” Whitehead added. “Continued support and greater levels of intense intervention will be required as our citizens continue the long process of reinvention and additional efforts toward Shaping Our Appalachian Region take flight.”
For more information on how to enroll in H.O.M.E., contact EKCEP toll-free at 855-466-3690 (855-HOME-690), online at www.homeeky.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ekcep.