WILLIAMSON – On a rugged hill surrounded by picturesque views and a winding gravel road, the serenity is broken by a symphony of sound that makes it difficult to hear Brandon Blankenship over the hammering, sawing and the conversations of the small building crew Blankenship is a part of. These are the sounds of what Blankenship describes as a “transitioning workforce” emerging in Mingo County.
Brandon Blankenship is a member of a small crew working for Coalfield Development’s Quality Jobs Initiative (QJI) on a timber frame house project near Mingo Central High School. Coalfield Development partnered with the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority (MCRA) to complete the timber frame house.
According to Coalfield’s Development’s website, those participating in The QJI Program receive 33 hours of paid hands of construction work, six hours of course work, and three hours of life skills training every week. The website states that the program offers a “hand up; not a handout.” The goal of the program is to, “break the generational cycles of poverty.”
Brandon Dennison, founder and Executive Director of Coalfield Development explained the program as, “a comprehensive opportunity offered to young adults in the Coalfields. They work a 33-6-3 model each week. 33 hours of paid general contracting, six hours in community college classes, and three hours of life skills coaching,”
Blankenship’s describes the benefits the QJI program offers students interested in building construction. “The QJI gives kids the opportunity to start working right after high school,” Blankenship said.
Blankenship also explained the personal benefits the program has offered to him. “It gives me a better opportunity. I will have a degree and certifications. Most jobs require at least a two year degree,” Blankenship explained.
Blankenship learned about the QJI as a student in Brad Justice’s Building Construction class he was taking at Mingo Central High School. “There were a lot of applicants but Brad felt we were suited for the job. He told me about Coalfield Development. I got the interview and then, I got the job,” Blankenship said.
Blankenship explains that the program offers more than the traditional college experience. “This gives us a chance to learn the skills hands on, and we get paid for it,” Blankenship says. He also discusses the advantages of the weekly life skills coaching he attends. “Life skills training teaches us a lot of different things. We have learned everything from weight lifting to financial management,” Blankenship said.
Blankenship said that he feels the QJI will provide a welcome transition for the area’s workforce due to the recent decline in the coal mining industry. “I hope that this program helps end the cycle of poverty in our area. Our workforce is in a transition and construction will help promote tourism in the area,” Blankenship said.
Dennison said that the program has created over 25 job, education, and personal growth opportunities in southern W.Va and that other projects are expected for the area. “We just finished the entrepreneurship hub at the City Gym. We are now building a house for MCRA at the Newtown site near the high school. We are planning many future projects. We love Mingo County, and our program is off to a great start there with a crew of six and their crew chief,” Dennison said.
More information about the Quality Jobs Initiative can be found at www.coalfield-development.org.
(Courtney Pigman is a news reporter for the Williamson Daily News. She can be contacted at [email protected], or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2279.)