Former coal miner gets new lease on life


A new college program is offering a new career opportunity for a retired coal miner.

Wesley Martin of Cool Ridge, worked in a coal mine until he was sidelines by an injury.

Unable to go back into the mine, he began to look for another way to make a living.

Through his wife, who was a medical assisting student at New River, he heard that the college was starting a new certificate program in Commercial Driver's License.   He had experience driving heavy equipment in the mines, so he decided to check it out.   Less than a year later, he is employed as a long haul trucker and has turned down several other job offers.

According to a press release, the instruction he received in the New River program was top notch, and particularly suited to his learning style.   He was pleasantly surprised to find that the instructor, Gary Shrewsbury, had worked at the same mine where he worked, and that real-world experience showed in his teaching style.

"He was more of a hands-on teacher," Martin said.   I have ADHD and I need to be able to touch it and feel it.   He helped me out a lot."

Martin said that throughout the program, Shrewsbury incorporated increasingly difficult challenges into their practice runs in the parking lot behind New River's Advanced Technology Center in Ghent, W.Va.

"He would set up cones for us to back in between.   When we got comfortable with them at one distance, he was set them tighter.   Every day it was something different and a little harder.  He was always willing to give us extra help.   I still call him, " Martin said.

After he finished the program's first class in December, he took a short break and started searching trucking web sites for places that were hiring.   He bypassed some lower paying jobs because he knew that with his CDL from an accredited school, he could earn better pay.  He now earns 40 cents per mile, which is in the upper range of pay for new drivers.

Shrewsbury points out that Martin did a smart thing by accepting a position as a long-haul driver to start out.

"There are lot of jobs out there, but lots of people just want to work locally, and there are fewer local jobs," he explained.   By getting over-the-road experience first, drivers can get good experience under their belts and are in a better position to get local jobs down the line.

The CDL Certificate is a one-semester program that will prepare students to pass the certification tests and obtain the endorsements necessary to drive a commercial vehicle knowledgeable and confidently.  

Due to the somewhat difficult lifestyle and time spent away from home, many companies have trouble finding qualified long-haul drivers.   Those who have the necessary experience and other qualifications should be able to find good, high paying jobs.   The median annual wage of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is $37,770, with many earning more than $57,000.

The next CDL class will start on Aug. 19, and the deadline to apply is Aug. 9.  Shrewsbury said that it helps if applicants already have taken the DOT long-form physical and a drug test before enrolling in the program.   For more information contact Shrewsbury at (304) 929-3318.

New River Community and Technical College is part of the West Virginia Community and Technical College System.  It serves nine counties in southeastern West Virginia from five locations: Mercer County Campus ( Princeton ), Nicholas County Campus ( Summersville ), Beckley Campus, Greenbrier Valley Campus ( Lewisburg ), and the Advanced Technology Center ( Ghent ).   Administrative offices are located in Beckley.

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