The Office of Just Transition’s purpose is to assist those workers, families, and communities in Colorado most affected by the closure of coal mines and power plants – specifically from 2017 through at least the end of this decade.
For workers, state law directs OJT to design and implement a comprehensive “coal transition workforce assistance program.” Nearly 3,000 Coloradans fit the definition of a “coal transition worker” in state law. That includes roughly 1,000 miners, almost 800 utility workers, and a little over 1,000 “supply chain workers” (contractors, rail workers, suppliers, and others who directly support the mines and power plants). When we add spouses, partners, and other immediate family, the number of Coloradans potentially served by the worker assistance program more than doubles.
To be effective, we know this program must meet the actual needs of these workers and families. So late last year we launched an extensive survey to learn as much as we could about those needs. We started in Northwest Colorado (Moffat, Rio Blanco, and Routt counties), because almost half of all “coal transition workers” in Colorado live and work there. We did this in partnership with Colorado Northwest Community College and the Craig Workforce Center, and with support from labor leaders as well as plant and mine managers. We will expand the survey to other locations soon, but we’ve already learned a great deal.
We’ve received 258 responses – almost all from workers at Craig Station, Trapper Mine, and Colowyo Mine (all in Moffat County). That is a 60 percent response rate from these three facilities, which is remarkably good for surveys like this. In late February, OJT Director Wade Buchanan and Workforce Program Manager Shelley Siman visited all three facilities during shift breaks to meet with workers, share early results, and ask for more feedback and information about the responses. A total of approximately 200 workers attended these sessions.
The Legislature has allocated $15 million for these efforts over the next five years. While we hope to secure more and longer-term funding, $15 million will allow us to make a very good start – if we use it wisely. Information like what we get from the survey and in these meetings is critical to getting this right in the coming years.
The survey’s preliminary findings include:
- 61% of respondents said they want to remain in the community after closures, with another 21 percent saying they were undecided. Only 18 percent said they intend to leave.
- Almost 57% of respondents have been in the coal industry for more than 11 years.
- The two biggest concerns respondents raised about closure were loss of income and loss of health insurance.
- 18% of respondents already operate a side business, another 11% reported wanting to start a new business, and 46% would be interested in business start-up assistance.
- One third of respondents want to start exploring their options as soon as possible (including financial planning, training, and new skills exploration).
- The top five areas of training that respondents are interested in are heavy equipment operations, welding, commercial driver’s licenses, business start-up, and renewable energy.
- While more than half of respondents reported being aware of their current employers’ training and educational (tuition reimbursement) benefits, only 15% have used those benefits. Many would like them to be available to spouses and other family members as well.
The survey is still open, and we are seeking further input from miners, coal plant workers, and coal industry supply chain workers. We welcome ongoing feedback about strategies that are relevant and useful to workers and their families. For specific questions or concerns, please contact: