Considering the individual

Last month I wrote about connections. Afterwards, I read some text that triggered another connection and would allow me to segue smoothly into this month’s article. Unfortunately, as is their want, yet another connection has arisen and this one needs to take precedence. I don’t know if you can partially segue or segue on to a diversion, but that is what I am going to do.

Before I do, I need to put in a pre-emptive self-justification. There are occasions that often repeat themselves and the different people involved tend to respond in the same manner. One such occasion is when you go to buy a weekend broadsheet newspaper. The person behind the till, whilst struggling to lift the bulky tome to the scanner, will say: “It will take you all weekend/week to read this”. I smile and agree, knowing that they are thinking that I have nothing better to do! The reality is that I read certain sections. I then let the other sections mount up for a couple of weeks, until I do get some time to skip read through them and pick out the articles that catch my eye.

The other week, a letter in the business section of the Sunday Times caught my eye and, luckily, I was able to rescue the previous week’s issue, which had gone straight in the recycling bin. The subject was an interview with Dame Ann Dowling, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering. In it, she highlights the fact that in the UK only 9% of professional engineers are women, whilst in other European countries it is up to 30%. She proposes that this may be because the most famous engineers in this country are Victorian men, such as Brunel. To be fair, she does say that we need to encourage schoolchildren, in general, to maintain curiosity and creativity and the interviewer does write about the struggle for fresh engineering talent and that the average age of Britain’s engineers is 56!

There is a dearth of women in engineering and it is important to encourage more of them to enter the profession. 23 June is Women in Engineering Day and offers the opportunity to publicise the true nature of the profession to women of all ages, but particularly the current school population, who are about to make career choices. However, the letter, referred to above, stated that the challenges are not gender-related but due to a ‘narrow-minded attitude that engineers should never leave the boiler room’. The letter writer also points out that the countries that have a greater proportion of women engineers are those countries where engineers are valued and have higher pay, prospects and social status than those in Britain. The other day I was talking to a lad. Under my interrogation, he willingly answered that his PhD was in engineering. When I asked what type of engineering, he hesitated, just like I tend to do when asked the same thing. What is the point of explaining when, more often than not, the questioner is likely to glaze over and change the subject? In this case, I was able to surprise him and discover that even someone working in the field has limited knowledge of some of the bigger engineering companies.

The brain likes to take shortcuts. Putting people into easily-identified groups helps us to simplify problems and propose unsophisticated solutions. There is an issue about attracting women into engineering but, pay, prospects and social standing apart, there is an issue in informing people from all possible groupings, be they social, gender or racial, about engineering. I recently spent time explaining the different types of engineering to two boys from a high-performing school, whose teachers and parents did not have the knowledge to impart. I am happy to report that both boys are applying for engineering: one is even going on to study chemical engineering, which we all know produces the brightest engineers J.

So, we need to stop focusing on one or two groups and work out how to address individuals. The Apprenticeship scheme that BINDT is currently working on is a vehicle to attract some of those individuals. The scheme is adaptable to the needs of the particular employer, but will offer some options to the apprentice to meet their individual needs, in addition to the NDT practitioner qualifications.

As a profession, NDT concentrates on using individuals to carry out inspections, but treats them as homogeneous resources: Level 1; Level 2; and Level 3. Evidence from reliability studies shows this approach to be fallible. We need to be thinking of how to support and maximise the benefit of the many individuals in our profession. The final thought on this topic comes from the article on page 3 of last month’s NDT News: ‘there is also a lack of NDT equipment knowledge among the end-users’.

We need a big, ongoing PR campaign to promote engineering, and specifically NDT, in order to address the ignorance in the young, their parents, teachers and careers advisors, customers, end users and consumers.

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within the NDT Newspaper. They do not represent the views of Amec Foster Wheeler or the HSE who funded the PANI projects.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Newton Building, St George’s Avenue, Northampton NN2 6JB. Fax: 01604 89 3861; Email: or email Bernard McGrath direct at

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