Coal Mining and the Technologies Reshaping Our World – and Workforce?

GT Briefing March 2012: Technologies Reshaping Our World.

One of the things that piques my interest in the story above is the concept of  mining jobs being replaced by robots.  This only makes sense – when you can remove the human element from a dangerous situation, do it.  This potentially saves lives. We already do it in combat with drone airplanes and remote bomb-diffusing agents.

The thing that struck me was how ardently the pro-mining lobbies fight against green energy/renewable energy initiatives in the name of saving mining jobs.  It appears that the coal mining industry (at least) holds a future with less and less human mining jobs – maybe one new job of a person behind a monitor and joystick for every 20 human-mining jobs lost?  Just an arbitrary guess.

It just appears to be a losing proposition – instead of fighting for industry jobs that are already doomed, why not undertake the difficult and long-term process of retraining miners for the new jobs that are on the horizon?  These new jobs include the robot operator, but also the solar panel installer, the windmill technician, and the geothermal well-driller.

Alternative and green energy is no longer a characterization of left-leaning tree-hugging liberals.  That went out the door when George W Bush put solar panels on his ranch in Texas. The endeavor of green energy is now an actual and sustainable business model, employing actual laborers and contractors, making actual money for companies (and producing actual energy!).

People need energy.  Those of us living in the Appalachian Region need to think ahead five or ten years, think about what re-training we need to meet the emerging demand of green energy.  We need to evaluate our current skills and consider which ones will likely be outsourced by technology.

Instead of fighting the stream of modernity and defending mining jobs, lets acknowledge that making humans work in mining jobs is a dangerous (but respectable and honored) relic of our past.  Let’s start training up a workforce to meet the new energy challenges of the Twenty-First Century.