New Utah center ready to prep next generation of Boilermakers

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New Utah center ready to prep next generation of Boilermakers

We’re going to give everyone who comes here the opportunity to better themselves. Training is everything.

James G. “Jim” Cooksey, Western States AIP/IR

Jim Cooksey cuts the ceremonial red ribbon to signify the center’s official opening. l. to r. WSJAC Assistant Coordinator Andrew Jones, BOL President Bob McCall, SBCTC President Robbie Hunter, WSJAC Area Coordinator Collin Keisling, Cooksey, Charmayne Cooksey, IP Newton Jones, IVP Tom Baca, and Jenny Farney and Dan Klingman of Lincoln Electric.

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J.G. Cooksey WSJAC Boilermaker Training Center opens for business

CLEAR SALT LAKE City skies and the snow-capped Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains made a picture-perfect backdrop as Boilermaker dignitaries and friends cut the ribbon and opened the new world-class J.G. Cooksey WSJAC Boilermaker Training Center this past May.

Among the guests were owner representatives from Andeavor, Chevron, PacifiCorp and PBF Energy, including three refinery plant managers. Refinery work for Boilermakers has surged in the Western States, particularly in California, where the state now requires that at least 60 percent of journeymen be graduates of state-approved or federally-approved apprenticeship programs.

“Boilermakers have always placed a high value on training, as evidenced by our rigorous four-year apprenticeship program — one of the best, I believe, in the world,” said International President Newton B. Jones. “Construction Boilermakers require exceptional training, because we work in dangerous environments: in confined spaces, at great heights, lifting massive equipment and in all kinds of weather. With new training centers, such as this one, the Boilermakers union re-dedicates our Brotherhood not only to continue our exceptional training, but to further refine and enhance it.”

The new 18,000-square-foot J.G. Cooksey WSJAC (Western States Joint Apprenticeship Committee) Training Center includes modern classrooms, state-of-the-art robotic welding equipment and 30 welding booths with an advanced fume exhaust system. Adjacent to the welding booth area, with its 30-foot-high ceiling, is a massive open space with oversize garage bay door access. It’s a blank slate just waiting to accommodate nearly any kind and size of apprentice practice project. Outside, anchoring the property is a Boilermaker-built rigging tower ready to be put to work. It’s all top-of-the-line, and it’s spotless.

“I can’t wait to get some sparks flying and make it dirty,” said Collin Keisling, WSJAC Area Coordinator. “That’s what it’s for.”

The building itself also serves as a sort of advertisement for the Boilermakers union. With the Boilermaker name boldly visible on two sides of the building that face busy Interstate 215, it’s hard to miss.

“We really needed a presence here in Salt Lake City to pull more helpers and apprentices into training,” said Western States International Vice President J. Tom Baca. “Our goal is to prepare as many top welders as possible to address industry shortages.”

The center is named in honor of Western States International Representative James G. “Jim” Cooksey, who got his start as a Boilermaker in Salt Lake City and is known for his recruiting enthusiasm and success.

“Jim believes in the unmatched quality of Boilermaker training, and he has worked tirelessly over more than four decades to ensure others have the opportunity to pursue a rewarding career as a union Boilermaker,” said IP Jones. “It is fitting to name this facility in tribute to Jim’s dedication to our union.”

Cooksey, who is also an Assistant to the International President, told guests that he learned early in his Boilermaker career that the way to move up in the industry is to learn and work hard.

“In this industry, knowledge is power,” he said. “The more you know, the more you’re going to work. The more you work, the more you’re going to be able to maintain a good living. And what the Boilermaker goes through to make a living, not everyone can do that. You can’t just fill out an application, show up and be good at it. That’s why this training center will simulate what needs to be done and how you need to work as a Boilermaker.

“We’re going to give everyone who comes here the opportunity to better themselves. Training is everything.”

Financed through Bank of Labor, the training center is the first of eight new centers planned in the Western States.

California State Building and Construction Trades Council President Robbie Hunter, who attended the ribbon-cutting as a special guest, told the crowd he looks forward to seeing the training center replicated.

“There are going to be tens of thousands of kids who are going to go through this training center,” he said. “In these neighborhoods around us, there are kids being raised by their grandmothers. They have a hard life. They get put into school late. They struggle to stay there. A place like this is going to give those kids a chance to become something — to get the skills to meet the need and to make a living.

“That’s what this training center is about. It’s about ordinary people trying to find a way of making a living to make themselves of value. They can say, ‘I’m worth something. I’ve got a skill, and I’ve got an ability that can’t be taken away. And if I train the hardest and get the most qualifications, I’ll be the first person on the job, and I’ll be the last person on the job.’”

Said IP Jones: “Decades from now, this facility and its instructors will have been responsible for preparing thousands of tradesmen and women whose professionalism helped build the nation’s essential infrastructure across multiple industries — from power generation to oil refining to steel milling to aluminum smelting and more.

“And in the process, we will have enabled our members to earn a good living for themselves and their families.”

A little about Jim Cooksey

JIM COOKSEY LIKES to say he learned the Boilermaker trade “from the bottom, up.” As an 18-year-old in Salt Lake City, he was working as a busboy and at a gas station, living in (his words) a “dirt bag trailer” behind said gas station. Then he met Charmayne, his future wife. Charmayne’s father, however, must have noticed that Cooksey wasn’t going anywhere — literally or figuratively — so he got him a start at a small metals shop and on the right career trajectory.

Cooksey joined the Boilermakers union in 1975, and for the past four-plus decades has dedicated himself to ensuring others have the opportunity to pursue a career as a union Boilermaker. He’s lost count of how many Boilermaker Brothers and Sisters he has brought into the organization, largely because he’s never not recruiting and organizing for the Brotherhood. It’s about paying the opportunity forward.

“After 40-odd years in this organization, I sometimes wonder how far I’d have gone if I hadn’t found the Boilermakers,” he says. “I came in as an 18-year-old kid, and these guys over the years have taken me under their wings and taught me. And I had some great teachers.

“All you have to do is learn. Learn and work hard,” Cooksey says about tapping into the potential of a Boilermaker career. “And I’ve gone by that for a lot of years.”