Have some compassion for the displaced coal workers, says Michael Bloomberg. They can’t just all go out and learn to code.

There should be solutions and systems in place to help the people who have lost jobs because of closed coal plants and mines, said former New York Mayor and entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg said at the Bloomberg Energy Summit on Wednesday. He said that he gives “a lot of money to the Sierra Club,” to help close dirty coal plants as natural gas and clean energy projects come online, but he iterated that as a society we have to “have some compassion to do it gently.”

Subsidies to help displaced workers are one option, said Bloomberg, while re-training is another option. But, in a slight to the tech industry’s sometimes out-of-touch nature with workers outside of Silicon Valley, he said retraining needs to be realistic:

You’re not going to teach a coal miner to code. Mark Zuckerberg says you teach them [people] to code and everything will be great. I don’t know how to break it to you . . . but no.

The comment about Zuckerberg is just the latest indication of the backlash against the tech industry, which has developed a reputation for being filled with over-privileged, overpaid developers and execs that have little compassion for the struggles outside of the tech bubble. This reputation has culminated in protests against Google buses, and even against tech executives.


Outside of the tech industry, there’s a significant energy shift happening across the U.S. Older coal plants are being closed, following the rise of cheap natural gas, as well as the EPA’s plans to regulate carbon emissions (coal is the dirtiest form of electricity generation). Between 2007 and 2012, coal’s contribution to the U.S. electricity supply went from 50 percent to 37 percent. In a unusual twist, some of the country’s coal mines are actually not being shut down along with the plants, but are sending coal to other quickly developing countries like India.

However, few new coal plants are being built. New coal power only made up 10 percent of the total newly added electricity generation in 2013. At the same time, new natural gas made up almost half of the new electricity capacity, solar made up about a third of new electricity, and wind delivered about 7 percent of new electricity.

But as coal plants and mines are closed, there will obviously be displaced workers in coal-heavy states that are already facing a suffering economy. This will have major implications on society, and we need to find solutions to help them, said Bloomberg.

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  1. Albert Hartman Wednesday, April 9, 2014

    Maybe coal workers – longtime atom pushers – won’t transition easily into coders – bit pushers. But they can still participate in their longtime professions of energy, and continue pushing atoms. They’ll just have to move into coal’s successors – the electrical energy grid driven by cleantech sources like solar. The country is rewiring for a newer generation of energy technology, and they can still participate.

    1. Exactly. Reducing the coal mining industry doesn’t mean removing jobs, it just means moving jobs around a little. The energy industry will always need workers, at least, for the foreseeable future.

      However, I would argue that Bloomberg is wrong. You *can* teach a coal miner to code. Not all programming is esoteric and difficult, and programming skills apply in job areas all over the planet, not just silicon valley, and not just dedicated programming jobs. Anyone using Excel all day long could benefit from knowing how to write macros that will accelerate their work, and they would therefore be more valuable to companies looking to hire.

      1. Not exactly true. The newer energy plants coming online will be much more efficient than plants built 20 years ago. More efficient == less jobs because of automation. It also means higher level skill requirements. They may not need to be coders but they will need to be effective tech workers who integrate technology innovations into their daily tool chest of capabilities. Efficiency is really the biggest issue we have in this country in terms of squeezing out jobs.

  2. lol that’s a rather harsh insult from Bloomberg, calling coal miners too stupid to code at all.
    The problem mentioned here is minor and nothing new ,there are always shifts like that.
    Anyway, the world evolves, a lot of jobs become irrelevant an the change is likely to accelerate in a very substantial way Robots ( this includes autonomous cars displacing drivers) , computers, 3D printing will likely kill almost all jobs in 3 to 5 decades.
    And lets not forget high school graduation rates in major US cities NYC was at 54% in 2010 and overall the US is maybe at 75%. Seems like a far bigger issue than coal mining loosing steam.Jobs will keep going away and a huge % of the population has little education.

    1. Katie Fehrenbacher realjjj Wednesday, April 9, 2014

      Like I said in the article, I think he meant it more as a slight to the tech industry — as their suggestions that teaching everyone to code will solve the realities of shifting economies — rather than an insult saying coal miners are too stupid to code. Its not a realistic way to solve the lost coal jobs to turn them all into coders.

      1. i like that you stated your position, but Bloomberg is a dinosaur and it’s relative to our educational system (not tech companies) that do not teach c++ PQCC coco/R etc.because there is no one present qualified to do it. cdc compiler, compiler/compiler, parser, is all a self learning experience. coal mining is profitable for the owners of mines that influence political decisions and alternative energy is not. progress is slow because we have to wait for the influence to die off before we can move on.

      2. Teach people skills that are in demand, and that suit their aptitudes and interests.

        Welding, Nursing, Coding. Plenty of different choices for skilled work in high paying fields. Yes, not everyone will enjoy coding, but that is not the only option.

        Like working with your hands, doing physical labor without too much brain power? Learn to weld. There’s currently a shortage of skilled welders (lots of jobs) and the pay is as good or better than coal mining.

        Like working with people and helping people? Nursing might be the field for you. As the population ages and diabetes becomes rampant, we will need more nurses to care for everyone. Plenty of jobs, and they have good pay. Almost every part of the country needs nurses, so if you want a certain location, this could be the job for you.

        Want to work from home and telecommute? Want to work with your mind and not have to interact with people all that much? Coding could be the job for you. Huge salaries for top performers, too.

        Saying that not all coal miners can be retrained as coders does not really add much to the discussion. As we’ve seen from the television show “Undercover Boss”, not all CEO’s can be retrained as front line workers. So what? There are other jobs that better suit them and that are in demand. Same with coal miners.

    2. You’re the only one using the word “stupid”. Or are you so divorced from the cumulative realities of life in coal country to believe you just flip a switch and magically offer extension courses in coding – and decades of non-technical education, class structures mandating manual labor as the best shot at income, the whole disaster of decades of economic monoculture just vanish?

      Incidentally, I don’t think you’re stupid either. Just as ignorant as the average Ayn Rand acolyte.

      1. Gotta love those Randians!!! Always intelligent.

    3. Kelvin Dudus Black realjjj Tuesday, April 22, 2014

      have you forgotten that 3d printers are also assembled? Who does that? did they have a job before the 3d printer? Do they now have one?

  3. I always thought the approach of “teaching everyone to code” won’t solve the world’s issues, so I find myself in the weird position of supporting what ElBloombito says. Not everyone needs to learn to code or wants to learn to code. It’s a rather myopic view. I think in this case (the transition of “dirty energy” workers to “clean energy” workers), what are the general skills we can use to transition into a new career and, more importantly, not have these folks out of work for an extended period of time while they move into a new skillset.

  4. Literally teaching everyone to code is a silly aim anyway. Even so, I’m sure a good number of coal miners could be taught, if they were motivated.

    In the end, coding will become less necessary, as tools become more sophisticated, so this whole “teach everyone to code and it’ll save the world” mantra is a total red herring.

    There are a number of startups, including mine, which allow anyone to create extremely sophisticated business applications, without the need for coding or teams of developers, etc. This seems likely to be better future than teaching everyone to code, IMHO, although of course YMMV.

  5. Takeshi Young Wednesday, April 9, 2014

    Coal mining or mining of any kind is a dying industry. These jobs will be largely done by machines within the next few decades.

    Technology, in the meantime, is a growth industry. Not everyone needs to become a programmer, but everyone should have an understanding of technology and how to use it, or they are going to get left behind in the new economy.

    And Bloomberg’s suggestion of subsidies for displaced workers is sillier than trying to teach everyone to code. That’s a bandaid solution that’s not going to help longterm. At least coding is a practical skill for which there currently exists more demand than supply.

    1. Takeshi

      Mining is largely done by machines already, the difference is that they need humans to run them.

      It is all very well thinking some kind of Google autonomous car programme can operate these machines, however Google cars operate in 2D space I.e. they don’t have to worry about the road suddenly not being connected to the ground anymore.

      Mining is based on 3D geology which is based on pretty sophisticated geostatistical “guesswork” derived from drilling a few holes and trying to infer reality as to whether or not there might be something there to be mined.

      There will always be a need for a human to control a mining machine as it needs to be corrected when the machine starts to mine waste rock as opposed to ore.

      In the coal mining universe this can be quantified as coal is black and waste rock is usually brown, but if you are mining gold (at a so-called cutoff grades of 1 gram per tonne i.e. a dilution factor of 1 in 1,000,000 you cannot determine what is ore (1.1 g/t) and what is waste (0.9 g/t) without some sort of geological input – and that needs a human !



  6. This misplaced compassion and I don’t see how it makes for an article. No one is expecting coal miners to build a new career as coders. They can move to other mining industries, of which there are many. They may have to relocate, which is where sympathies should be directed – not to their technology literacy.

  7. Rocco Neil April Wednesday, April 9, 2014

    Not until they wash their hands, you can’t! Then…sure.

  8. Many here seem to thing that a coal miner can transition his/her skill into some other part of the “power industry”, this is not so easy. The power industry, no matter what the power source is becoming extremely technical. I’m not saying we can’t teach people to run a power production plant, but it would be no different than teaching that person to code.

  9. Jorge Eduardo Ardila Wednesday, April 9, 2014

    Learn to code, then give your work as free, because heavy cashed startups are doing so: giving software for free. So who is going to pay the myriad of coders trying to make a life, while tech giants give free software?

  10. My husband is a Union coal miner and I take offence to people assuming that all coal miners are uneducated or that they would have to be uneducated to work in a coal mines, granted many never went to college but most mines require a high school diploma for employment,a Union coal miner makes 90,000-98,000 a yr plus great benifits ..that can not be replaced in this economy, kill these great paying jobs with what….minimum wage jobs

    1. “that can not be replaced in this economy, kill these great paying jobs with what….minimum wage jobs”

      Honestly, yes. If a min wage job is all he can land, then take it while keeping an eye out for something better. Woe is you for suffering like the rest of us… christ.

    2. I think Bloomberg made an over generalized poorly worded statement. I understand the point he was trying to make but it was insensitive and derogatory.
      I have been a professional Code Jockey for over 20 years now. I believe anyone, who is willing to learn, “can” be taught to code. It is simple logic. If I touch my finger the range element while it is on, I will get burned. Logic. There are some protocols to follow for safety and good practices, but that comes with any job. As a coal miner I would assume there is logic, protocols, and safety procedures.
      I have worked with several very educated people who absolutely hated to code and would have rather been a fry cook at a fast food place than to spend another hour with code. I don’t have a degree in programming. I don’t even have a degree. I feel it is about passion. If you don’t have a passion for coding, a mediocre coder is the best you can hope for. I have also worked with people who enjoyed coding but were horrible at it because they were careless.
      The next issue is the money. That is going to depend on the area and the supply/demand of good coders. Mediocre coders make mediocre money.

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