Chris Compton, who worked 23 years in the coal mines, found a new welding career at SilverLiner, thanks to training provided through a local program.

Twenty-three years — that’s how many years Pike Countian Chris Compton dedicated to a job he thought he’d retire from at a coal company just 30 minutes from his house. That retirement plan was shattered in February 2016, however, when the company Compton worked for issued mass layoffs and his number was up.

“That’s the lifestyle living here — if you didn’t work in the coal industry then you had to go somewhere else,” Compton said. “We couldn’t really go to another coal company that was close that was paying what they were paying, so it made it kind of hard.”

“Your bills are still coming in, so you have to make ends meet somehow,” he said.

Clad in a work shirt embellished with his name on the left side and the SilverLiner logo on the right, Compton sits in the offices of his new employer.

Manufacturing company SilverLiner announced at the end of 2017 that it would build a new facility in Pike County and needed to hire nearly 50 people with welding experience. Those chosen would then go on to complete further training in aluminum welding, thanks to a partnership with the Kentucky Community and Technical College System in Hazard and Paintsville and the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. 

He said the path to his current position was neither quick nor easy.

After the layoff, Compton says he hunted for work, as his unemployment benefits weren’t enough. “Odd jobs here and there” helped keep his afloat for nearly eight months until he finally got a call back from the local hospital for an available position in the receiving department. He said the pay “was nowhere near the kind of paying job like the coal industry.”

Compton admits he believed that would be the case for the rest of his working life. His hopes were sparked, however, when he heard of the new opportunity with SilverLiner coming to his hometown.

“I heard about it on the news and then kind of looked it up on the Internet and then went from there,” Compton said. “I figured from the work ethic that we came from and the way we were raised that it would be something that I liked to do.”

Compton was one of hundreds who submitted their application online and waited to hear back from the company. In February, he got the phone call he’d been hoping for.

“I got a phone call that said we’re going to do like a 10-minute interview with you,” Compton said, adding that after the interview he had to take an assessment at Big Sandy Community and Technical College to see if he was eligible.

In addition to providing nearly $100,000 in funding for the training, boots, tools and supplies for the classes, EKCEP staff assisted with handling applications, assessments and other needs to assist Compton and his fellow students as they began their training.

That training began in March, and Compton said he was more than ready for it.

“I was still working at the time, and they kind of worked the schedule so that if you were working you could get there,” he said.

Four days a week, Compton would get off work at 3:30 p.m. and drive to the Paintsville BSCTC campus nearly an hour and a half away. Once the class let out at 9 p.m., he would return home to restart that process the following day.

“It was a tough 12 weeks, but I’m glad I did it and it turned out,” he said.

Although the training class was a fast-track course to get the welders ready in the shortest time possible, Compton says it was very in-depth and helped him and his classmates prepare for the work that lay ahead. 

“It was real exciting once we’d gotten through the class. Chris (Tomlinson) had kind of sat down after the assessment to get the feel to where we were at,” Compton said. “He sat down and talked with me and said, you know it’ll be greener on the other side if you take this class — and it’s worked out.”

Compton and the other trainees are currently finishing up training on-site at the SilverLiner temporary site in Pike County. The permanent facility is set to open in late-2018 or early-2019 in the Kentucky Enterprise Industrial Park.

Life for Compton is looking up since he decided to look into SilverLiner. He said he’s sure his life would look different had he never made this endeavor.

“I’d probably be doing a lot of traveling, I’d say, because I’d have probably went back to the mines in the coal industry, but you have to drive two hours to get to one from where we’re at here in Pike County,” he said.

He thanked his new employer.

“I’d just like to thank SilverLiner for giving me the opportunity to show them what I can do and what I can learn,” he said with a grin.” You’re never too old to learn something.” 

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