Jeremy Sukola, water and wastewater market manager at coatings, linings, and fireproofing manufacturer Carboline, recently joined the CoatingsPro Interview Series to discuss key industry trends, feedback from the marketplace, the importance of education initiatives, and much more.
Discussion topics include lessons learned over Sukola’s distinguished career; education initiatives, technical development, and other resources available from Carboline to address market needs; advice for the next generation of coatings professionals; and how Sukola’s work as an Association for Materials Protection and Performance (AMPP) (formerly NACE International and SSPC: Society for Protective Coatings) education instructor has proven beneficial on many levels.
Read on for a partial Q&A transcript, and check out the full interview online at www.coatingspromag.com/podcasts. The complete podcast transcript will be made available in the May 2023 print issue of CoatingsPro Magazine.
Q: Can you give us some background on your career in the corrosion and coatings industry, and what it is you’re doing today with Carboline?
Sukola: So, I’ve spent the last 25 years of my working career, which would be my entire career, in the protective coatings industry. I started as an apprentice in a union shop as a Level 1 blaster painter. I worked for about three or four years and became a journeyman industrial blaster painter and was exposed to industrial projects, bridges, tank farms, and things like that.
As the years progressed, doors opened. I found myself moving to Atlanta about 20 years ago and went to work for a manufacturer that focused on the water and wastewater industry and made materials for that market segment. So lining concrete, as well as steel, became a focus of mine. Back then, the company was run by a former president of NACE, who was actually the founding member of the CIP [Coating Inspector Program]. They made it very clear early on that being involved in NACE would be important for me.
So I got involved, and it opened up a lot of doors for me. I was a contractor for years in the water and wastewater industry, I worked for a couple of manufacturers on the engineering specifications side, and I also worked for an engineering firm, where I was their senior coatings consultant for 18 or 19 offices.
I had a very unique background where I’ve able been able to put on a lot of different hats and see the industry from many different points of view, which helps in my current role as the market manager for water and wastewater with Carboline. Really, it’s to drive our direction — not just a year from now, but 5 and 10 years from now. It’s my role to figure out where we’re at and where we need to go.
Q: I know you’re a CIP Level 1 and Level 2 instructor with AMPP. Why do you go the extra mile, on top of what you do with Carboline, to do that?
Sukola: A big factor, again, was being introduced to legacy NACE early on. The company I worked for, a gentleman there named Jay Steele was a past president of NACE and was chair of the committee that founded the CIP program. He actually held card No. 1! His son, John Steele, I think is No. 16 or 18, something like that, and he was one of the first instructors for NACE. It was actually John Steele who came to me and said, ‘You know, I think you would really benefit from being an instructor for NACE.’ This was close to 10 years ago.
Going through the process and applying to be a NACE instructor was scary and challenging, but it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Because when I go out and instruct these courses, I remember when I went through them. Oddly enough, most of the instructors that I remember were people from Carboline, and that really stuck with me. A lot of those guys are still out there in the industry.
But one of the things I get out of it… I remember the knowledge that was imparted on me in those courses. It really opened my mind up to what else was in this industry. So, when I teach a CIP 1 or CIP 2 course, I get to interact with these students coming from every corner of this industry. They can be somebody who is looking to change a career, or they can be somebody who has been in the industry for 15 or 20 years and is really looking to sharpen up their skills. It can be a new guy or gal that is setting their own path.
When I teach these courses, I love the interactions we have. These are week-long courses, and people are taking a week out of their lives to come listen to me talk about these important things in the industry. I get to know them and build relationships with them. And I have relationships with a lot of the students I’ve had over the years.
Education is extremely important to me in this industry. I would not be where I am today, or anywhere in my career, if it wasn’t for somebody taking the time to impart some knowledge they learned along the way. I feel like, as we advance in the industry, our job is to impart that knowledge on people that come after us.
Q: Does it help you with your current job, as well?
Sukola: Absolutely. I would be lying if I said I didn’t learn something in every single class that I instructed. The students in those classes, they come from every walk of life. Some of them work for oil and gas companies. You’ve got regulatory people, engineers, and people that work for OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] in all different industries. I’d like to think that I’m helping impart some knowledge, but the reality is I learn more every single time I teach one of these courses.
Q: Based on all of your success, what advice do you give the next generation?
Sukola: Be a sponge. Absorb everything you can. Ask lots of questions. Ask to be involved in other projects. When I first started, in addition to going to school two or three nights a week to learn the ins and outs, I sought out people who had been doing this a while and tried to learn from them about what they were doing. I always offered myself up to be part of a project that was outside of the normal that we were doing. It could be a side job or something different, like if we got a new piece of equipment or were going to use a new type of coating. Later on in my career, it was getting involved in meetings. Just get as involved as you possibly can.
Take the time outside of your 9-to-5 to get involved in the industry. Things like legacy NACE and SSPC, and now AMPP, it’s a great organization to be a part of. You meet people, you expand your horizons, and you connect with people that could open doors for you later on. Networking is very important. It’s a big industry, but it’s such a small industry. I still know most of the people that I met 20 or 25 years ago. These are guys who were instructors of mine when I went through CIP 20 years ago. I still see them frequently, and we always catch up and say hello when we see each other.
Networking is extremely important outside of your daily job. So, get involved in organizations, committees, and other things are relevant to the industry. Be a sponge and put yourself out there. Risk isn’t always a bad thing.
The complete interview with Jeremy Sukola can be listened to below. For more information, contact: Carboline, (314) 644-1000, www.carboline.com.