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KDKA Investigates: Program To Retrain Miners Over-Promises, Under-Delivers

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- It seems like a great program, training unemployed miners and under-employed others at computer coding boot camps.

A non-profit, government-aided company called Mined Minds told KDKA's Jon Delano last February that their graduates were launching new careers in computer programming.

Delano: "Do most of your graduates find a job?"

Co-Founder Amanda Laucher: "Every single one of them. Yes."

Delano: "Every single one of your graduates?"

Laucher: "They all find a job."

When Minded Minds offered training to under-employed young people in Allegheny County, Max Pokropowicz, who works at Sam's Club, jumped at the chance.

"I didn't really expect to get a high paying job, but just an entry level job to get me in the field," he said.

But it didn't turn out that way.

Pokropowicz and Brian Lewis went through a Mined Minds coding camp at the Tech Shop in Bakery Square, and say they were promised a four to six month apprenticeship to give them the practical experience necessary to land a job.

But after 13 days, Mined Minds laid Pokropowicz off, and terminated Lewis's apprenticeship after just three days.

"All they said was it was circumstances beyond our control, and there's nothing we could do to avoid it. Anytime I would ask for more information, they wouldn't give any," Pokropowicz said.

They weren't the only ones left high and dry.

According to other former students KDKA's Andy Sheehan has spoken with, of the 20 who started the boot camp, only seven graduated. Of those seven, six were quickly let go. The boot camp, funded with a $71,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry appears to be a bust.

Back in the spring, Mined Minds, which had been operating a training center in Waynesburg, did stories touting the riches that awaited their students.

"With the skills that we give them in our class -- $200, $250 dollars an hour out in California or Chicago," said Laucher.

But when KDKA questioned the claims on their voicemail, Laucher and her co-founder Jonathan Graham didn't return the phones calls for several weeks. Eventually, they scheduled an interview, but then canceled the night before.

Instead, they sent an email reading:

"It is unfortunate that some of the participants have not been able to take advantage of their skills yet, but given the number of job openings in the technology sector there will be many opportunities for them to transition into tech careers."

KDKA's Andy Sheehan decided to visit Mined Minds himself.

"I've been calling Amanda and Jon but they haven't returned my calls and they canceled an interview with me."

The co-founders weren't there, but he did speak with Josh McNett, one of only two miners in Pennsylvania to complete the training and now working in computer technology.

The other one is Amanda Laucher's brother, Marvin.

Both now work for Mined Minds. After two years in operation in Greene County, McNett says few unemployed miners have signed up for training at Mined Minds.

"The problem is, is miners don't want to come to the class because they think that coal mines are coming back," McNett said. "They don't want retraining. That's the problem."

In subsequent emails, Mined Minds say they're now ending all of their training in Pennsylvania, forced to quit, they say, because of a cease and desist letter from the state Department of Education demanding they be licensed as a school.

The Education Department says rather than requesting a hearing or applying for a license, Mined Minds has folded its training operation here.

Meanwhile, the Community College of Allegheny County has dissolved their partnership with the company, and former students like Pokropowicz are still looking for a job, which he believes that promised apprenticeship may have delivered.

"Without that six months experience, it's pretty hard to find a solid employer who's willing to take a chance on you, and say okay we'll hire you," Pokropowicz said.

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