Approaching an uncertain future

I am writing this in mid-September, just after summer 2021 performed what may be its final encore. It was then washed away by heavy showers. Autumn is on its way. The nights are drawing in. The leaves are turning and falling. Holidays seem a long time past. It is time for reflection on the past year and a reassessment of what we may want for the future.

We don’t need to go back far for lots of negative recollections. Although we are currently coping with the pandemic, we are not out of the woods and a large number of people have suffered and continue to suffer as a result. After years of talk about climate change and the need to take action, suddenly the visible evidence of its effects appeared on our television screens: heatwaves giving rise to wildfires in California, Greece and Turkey; torrential rain leading to floods in Western Europe and China; hurricanes causing havoc; and droughts affecting people worldwide. Immediately afterwards, we saw the tragic evacuations from Afghanistan.

To watch as homes and belongings are suddenly destroyed and to observe people having to flee, with only what they can carry and needing to start over again in a new country and culture, makes you realise how quickly our lives can drastically change. What adds to the despair is the knowledge that these events could have been prevented, or at least mitigated, if appropriate action had been taken in response to what science and history has long since been telling us.

But it has not all been doom and gloom. On the positive side, we have had a tremendous summer of sport to raise the spirits. It started with the home teams performing well in the Euros, uniting the respective nations. The Olympics and the Paralympics followed hot on the heels of the Euros, with inspirational individual peak performances and achievements. Cricket introduced itself to a new audience with thrilling performances by both men and women in the new Hundred format. Although it ended in disappointment with the cancellation of the last match, the Test Series against India provided high-quality excitement for fans of both teams and the neutral. Just before I completed writing this, the US Open women’s singles tennis was won in convincing style by an 18-year-old. Interviews with participants emphasise that with hard work, determination, mental toughness, continuous practice and teamwork anyone can achieve their goals.

We use the contrary sentiments above to help us decide on what we may want for the future, provided we apply some lessons from them. In our professional lives we need to heed the history of industrial change and be cognisant of the signs and technical developments within wider industry and business. It is not difficult to identify the current trends that will impact on what we currently do: artificial intelligence; robotics; industry and NDE 4.0. Change is inevitable. We all need to be prepared for when it hits us, or better still prepared to stay one step ahead. I recently read two pieces of unrelated text that gave pointers on how to do this. The first implored us to face the unknown future by making experiments and courageously changing ourselves by dropping old tasks and embracing new ones. The second described the implementation of advanced technology as requiring knowledge of how the equipment thinks, along with new decision-making skills. It requires the unlearning of current practices and continuous future study and learning.

The vehicle for this is continuing professional development (CPD). Start by deciding what you would like to do in the long, medium and short term based on your current likes and dislikes, what you are good at, what you are not so good at and where you see future employment opportunities being created. Once you have identified your goals you can draft a plan of how to achieve them. You will need to continually revisit and update your plan in light of changes in your circumstances and wider sources of new information.

CPD through the engineering institutions requires a reflective statement: how the training, meeting or work activity adds to your competence or helps you perform better in the future. This is not just an administrative chore but a tool to help you evaluate if you are on the correct path to progress towards your goals.

As a practical engineering discipline, NDT requires knowledge and experience of applications through on-the-job training. Such opportunities can be constrained by the demands of your particular role. It is possible to bypass such constraints by attending Institute Branch meetings and conferences and networking within the profession, extracting knowledge from people who are willing to share their practical experiences of applying equipment and techniques and details of signals observed. Please let me know how you get on.

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within NDT News. They do not represent the views of Jacobs or BINDT.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Midsummer House, Riverside Way, Bedford Road, Northampton NN1 5NX, UK. Fax: +44 (0)1604 438301; Email: or email Bernard McGrath direct at

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