Jim Kunkle, Manager of Business Development for accreditation and certification for the newly formed Association for Materials Protection and Performance (AMPP), has 13 years of experience in the coatings world. He has developed a social media following and shares some lessons learned there, as well as other virtual opportunities available to asset owners, contractors, and beyond.
For more information, reach out to Jim Kunkle on LinkedIn. See below for a complete transcript of this recent podcast episode.
Stephanie Chizik: Thanks so much for joining us, Jim.
Jim Kunkle: Stephanie, it’s an honor to be here with you today, and I’m really looking forward to working with you in the future.
SC: Me, too. I’m excited for what the future holds. Let’s start by giving our listeners and viewers a bit of your background.
JK: For the association, for AMPP, I’m the manager of business development for the accreditation programs, which would be the old SSPC QP programs, and also for certification programs. The certification programs would be related to the craft worker certifications, the inspector certifications. My background with the Society for Protective Coatings has been working with owners, engineers, and specification firms to incorporate the programs, such as QP, and the certifications into the specification, job requirements, and things like that.
I’m a certified protective coatings specialist, and I also have a training in quality control systems, protective coatings inspector, concrete coatings inspector. When it comes to related to coatings, I have a pretty good depth of knowledge of the industry. Although I don’t have a lot of practical, hands-on experience, I do work a lot with contractors, so I know exactly what they go through on a given day related to project work and what environment they’re currently facing in this year, 2021.
SC: You clearly have a very wide spectrum of experience, which I’m sure helps you to be able to talk to those people who are in the field and kind of know what their pain points are. I met you years ago when we were at the trade shows and convention centers, and that’s probably a big portion of your job from what I understand as far as giving the trainings and those kinds of things. Things have been different these days. How is that working out for you?
JK: What I normally would do — I had a pretty heavy travel schedule, like you said, with conferences and trade events. But also going onsite if it’s an oil and gas company, if it’s a wastewater operation, or if it’s even working internationally in South America, where I work with a lot of different government entities and a lot of the national oil companies. Now, instead of getting on an airplane or getting in a vehicle and driving, now I’m doing all of my traveling virtually.
Actually, for me, it’s been a seamless transition. At the beginning of the pandemic, let’s say March–April time frame, when things really started to kick in, sometimes offices were closed, people weren’t readily available to do sessions. But as the business environment got acclimated to COVID and different types of regulations and lockdowns, it became a little bit more consistent, just like if you’re physically there. Now you’re just doing everything on Zoom, Skype, or Teams, and those types of portal systems that are available for businesses.
SC: Do you find that it’s more of a real-time availability of being able to talk to these people in the field? I have to imagine that they’re probably able to get a much quicker response because you don’t have to hop on a plane. If that’s one of the silver linings that’s potentially come out of this and how it could affect the industry, potentially, long term?
JK: It actually has. To give you a good example, some months ago I had a session with a department of transportation. They had their field inspectors also participate while they were on break at jobsites. We were able to go through a lot of different things related to some of the standards, and then I was able to update them on where the current state was between NACE International and the SSPC merger. It was kind of neat because, if I was physically there, we would probably have to conference call them in. but virtually, they can take it from an iPhone, and Android phone, they could take it from an iPad, laptop, desktop, whatever, and it worked out beautifully just for the availability. There have been times where I’ve had engineering firms say, “We want to have a lunch and learn. Can you be available tomorrow to do a lunch and learn?” I take advantage of that. Or if a major coating manufacturer says, “We’re having a webinar. Would you like to participate tomorrow or next week?” or whenever it is, again, instantaneously, if my schedule is available, I’m there, I’ll do it.
SC: I’m looking forward to the CORROSION show this year, too. That’s going to be virtual — to touch on a few of your points, that people who might not normally be able to attend are going to be able to go. Or if you have a really busy schedule, you can probably fit in a few different sessions. That kind of thing. I think there are some opportunities. Are you seeing any other opportunities out there that this specific situation might have long-term effects on?
JK: I think it does come to the aspect of these conferences and events. Now, what’s nice about the virtual is that the events have improved. From what I’ve learned related to Corrosion 2021, it’s not going to be a basic get on Zoom and do things on Zoom. There’s going to be a lot behind it and a lot around it as well. So it should be a very robust virtual show. I know earlier, in 2020, when people were going to virtual, it tended to be more basic Zoom-type things where people would present, and you could watch them and you could interact a little bit. I know that our organization at least has really looked into ways to improve that virtual experience so that when we can get back into having the physical experience, at least it helps get us through this time period until the pandemic gets under control and we’re able to all come back together again. And we all will.
SC: I think those are great points. You’re also touching on what we mentioned briefly, the merger of SSPC and NACE International, how that also might be affecting the industry moving forward. Are you seeing or hearing things that might help take us to the next level of the coatings industry, the corrosion industry?
JK: You know, past history. The merger was attempted years back. It didn’t work out. This time, with the position of the industry and as we’re moving further into the 21st century, we have a thing coming up in this industry that we all work in, both corrosion side and also the coatings side: digital transformation. That also comes into play with organizations. Organizations either grow or they die. This is an opportunity for both NACE International and SSPC, The Society for Protective Coatings to evolve with the industry but also branch out and get into other types of aspects and touchpoints that we can with other different industries globally. That’s where the opportunity is for our association, is to move deeper into the global industries and become connected with a lot of different aspects: research, development, manufacturing, the owners, the assets, everything that’s out there. Materials. It’s a great opportunity for our organization, and I’m very happy to say that everybody I talk to really supports it.
I think the challenge we have is we have a new name now and we have to get out there and talk about who we are, what we are, and also lay out the groundwork that we’re not going to be just a corrosion organization and a protective coatings organization. We’re going to grow. We’re going to evolve into something very special.
SC: I love that you mentioned the global aspect of it. To me, one of the best parts about my job, at least, is the opportunity to get to be a part of this amazing community of contractors in the coating work. Whenever I talk about it with my friends or people who are not in the industry, it’s interesting because they just don’t understand until I point it out of what a broad reach that corrosion and coatings in particular as a mitigation system, how broadly they can cover not only our lives, but also just globally. It affects everyone. It’s fascinating to me.
JK: Definitely. To the point where you say, you talk to your friends and tell them what you do and they don’t understand it. When I first started with SSPC, I would explain what I do, working with owners, engineers, and specification firms. My friends would say, “Wait a minute. You’re not selling a widget. You’re not selling anything to them. They’re just putting it into specification.” I pointed out to them, I guess the best way to describe it was to say, “I know my title is sales, but I’m more like an evangelist.” I go out there, and I’m spreading the information, the knowledge, but also showing owners and showing people that go out there to protect assets, there is a different way to work with an organization like ours, but also with contractors, with the paint manufacturers, with all these different entities.
That’s what’s unique about — where CoatingsPro focuses on contractors, and SSPC we are primarily looked at as a contracting — we work a lot with contractors. Now with AMPP, it’s a partnership. It brings industries together, educators together, researchers together, engineers, coating contractors, blast and paint shops, manufacturers — it brings the whole communities together. As I look at the communities of interest that we’ll create globally, that’s going to be really powerful. Again, there’s no limit to what we really can do with this association.
SC: I really see it as one of those color wheels, where you might have the contractor over here and assets over here, and in between you’ve got the inspector, the engineer, the specifier, the end user. The goal is to be able to give them a chance to talk to who they need to talk to. I think it’s a great opportunity.
JK: We are the bridge and we will provide the pathway for everyone to work together to improve both — really to improve all industries, but also focus on the challenges that we have ahead of us. We’ve got aging infrastructure globally. Just as much as we talk here in North America about bridge and highway structures and the power grid, the same things are happening in other parts of the world as well. We need to tackle a lot of these big issues but also look, too, at future technologies and how we can be involved with future technologies.
It’s an interesting time. You think about it: Yourself, myself, we’re the beginning, we’re the pioneers related to the organization. I can imagine — I’m going to be 55 in May. In 20, 30 years, let’s say I come back to one of the conferences with AMPP just to see the next generation, what they’re doing. That’s really what I find interesting, is the generational work that we’re laying out and that we’re working with young professionals, we’re working with craft workers, again we’re working with universities and educators. It’s a pretty neat job to have. I’m happy with what I do and the organization I work with.
SC: Yes, an exciting time for sure. That’s actually a perfect segue. You’ve set it up for the future. You’ve been in the industry for 13 years. How have you seen the industry change over that time?
JK: The biggest change for me has been related to the digitalization, the digital transformation that’s going on. The other thing is a corporatization. For example, with contractors, 13 years ago, you go back — and there still are — but you had a family-owned contracting operation. I have to say they’re still there, but we’re seeing over the last number of years, the corporatization, corporations coming in and purchasing these operations and then putting them into their portfolio. I do believe that trend will continue to happen. When we’re looking at these big general contractors, they want to be kind of a one-stop, they do everything from design-build, the construction, and all that goes with it. I do see that consolidation going on. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s also an opportunity.
The other challenge that we have more now is it’s very difficult in North America — when I travel in Latin America, it’s not always the same in Latin America when it comes to the labor force — but here in North America, we are having a challenge in getting craft workers, getting the young generation to come into the trades. I’ve had opportunity where I’ve met abrasive blasters who make really good money. It doesn’t matter gender. It doesn’t matter what your focus is. There’s a great opportunity to come from high school, go into the trades, and to make a really good living. Then, guess what. When you decide one day, “I really don’t like to be a blaster or painter. I want to become an inspector,” if you’ve worked your career path out properly, you have a perfect segue to go into the next level of your career and get a long-term career that’s rewarding and very fulfilling.
SC: There’s definitely the potential, I would say, for growth within the industry. At least in my experience, the people who I talk to on the contractor side who — we do something called a ProFile with them, where we interview them and talk to them about how they got started in the industry. A lot of times, it’s because their dad or their grandfather or someone was already in the industry, and so they were familiar with it. I think that’s really interesting because it kind of shows that people don’t necessarily purposely come into the industry, but they find themselves here and they find that they love it and that it’s a good home for them. You don’t have to know exactly that you want to be in the coatings industry, for example, to find your way here. Probably like both of us.
JK: No, and being involved either in commercial painting or industrial painting, it’s a noble thing to do, and it’s needed. It’s vital. That’s what protects our infrastructure. You know more than anybody, if you don’t put the coatings system on these assets, they’re going to succumb to corrosion. They’re going to fail. If we want to get a longer life cycle out of whatever the asset is, we have to make sure we maintain it, we preserve it, and we protect it.
SC: Yes. That’s a great tagline, Jim. I love that. You also mentioned the consolidation on the contractor side. I’ve also seen it on the coating manufacturer side, especially at the International Roofing Expo, where they’ll have a lot of these little roof coating manufacturers are starting either to join forces together or be purchased by a larger coating manufacturer. I’ve seen that trend as well on that side of the house. It’s interesting.
JK: Yes, you definitely see that. Sherwin-Williams or a PPG or an International — Akzo — you see a lot of acquisitions going on. That trend also goes globally too. In Latin America, in South America, there’s been a lot of consolidation with the coating manufacturers, some of them from the majors, but some of them from the regional players in South America as well.
SC: That’s interesting. That will be an interesting one to stay on top of, too, as the year progresses. I’m sure it will be continuing as we continue through the year.
JK: The other thing, too, is with the technologies that are changing. Now you’re starting to read stories about self-healing coatings, ballistic coatings, the anti-microbials that are coming out, even — I just recently did an interview with a scientist related to peelable coatings that could be used inside and outside. It’s just amazing to see the technologies that are coming. Now, back to the trades, that requires specialized, certified surface preparation personnel and coating application personnel as well, and inspectors.
SC: Absolutely. Have to have the right people doing it. One of the things I also wanted to touch on before we close out our chat today is you are incredible at social media. I’ve definitely seen you over on LinkedIn, very interactive. YouTube. I think you also do Twitter and Facebook. Do you have any tips for our listeners who might be interested in using social media for their business? Which platforms for which types of things? Or just what you’ve experienced.
JK: My first advice would be: Be brave and do it. Just go out there and do it. I started my YouTube channel at the beginning of 2020. If people go back and watch the first videos I did, interviews, they were really horrible. I was nervous, the editing was bad, but I got better over time. I learned a lot about myself but also how to edit and do a lot of things like that. The nice thing about it is I encounter and I’ve acquired a lot of different information. That’s what I want to be able to do, is to provide information to people, but I also want to show to others that this industry we work in is absolutely a very exciting industry.
LinkedIn has been the most powerful resource tool for me both as a professional business development person, but also as a professional but also to get information out there. The interactions that I have. I do a daily quiz question. I do global topic, which is on the YouTube channel. Then I do a thing called 2-minute lessons every weekend, where I’ll have short, 2-minute lessons on different topics related to coatings and corrosion. Engage people. Like and share stuff that you really like and find interesting. Also communicate with people. If they post something like jobs, a flooring job, you can say, “Nice job” or “That looks great.”
For me, I’m being very sincere when I do say that, because I’m impressed with the quality of work that I see out there. I really love companies that go, “We’re a quality contractor and this is the work that we do and this is why you want to work with us.” I say LinkedIn. Obviously, Facebook has its own thing. I’m trying things regarding IGTV, or Instagram TV, doing the short lessons on there as well. I could see Instagram, probably a little bit of YouTube. LinkedIn is probably the primary source for everybody to use. It’s a great resource.
SC: Thank you for those tips. Is there anything else that you’d like to add before we end our chat today?
JK: What I’d like to say is, if anybody would like to connect with me on LinkedIn, just search under James Kunkle. Please connect with me. If you’re an owner, if you’re a specification writer, if you are an engineering firm and you really need some type of — again, I’m not a consultant, but I’m a resource for you. If you want to know more about contractor accreditation, you want to know more about quality craft worker certification from AMPP, please reach out to me. I could do a 15-, 20-minute, half-hour session with you, a lunch an learn, virtually. This way, you get a lot of good information and understand and make an informed decision when you’re redoing your spec or you’re looking to add things in related to standards. I have a good knowledge related to SSPC standards and some of the industry standards that are out there as well associated with protective coatings. Please feel free to utilize me as a resource to help you in your jobs and your profession.
SC: That’s perfect. I’ll give a testimonial that you’re a great asset. I think people should definitely reach out to you. Like I said before, check out his YouTube. Connect on LinkedIn and all the other social media platforms. Reach out. Communicate. Social media is supposed to be social, so let’s use it that way and get what we need to get done.
JK: That’s the way it’s supposed to be used.
SC: Yes, absolutely.