Competence based on effective experience

Over the Christmas break, I took advantage of some downtime to catch up on reading and sorting out the various material I have accumulated. As you will appreciate, this is not a quick task because it is easy to get side-tracked by discovering a forgotten item. One such discovery related to how someone, not realising that Excel could perform formulae calculations, populated a spreadsheet with many handwritten calculations. This may be an extreme example, but despite a few decades of experience of using Microsoft Office, I can think of many examples where I and others have discovered software operations of which we were blissfully unaware.

Recently, I have had occasion to ponder how to define and assess the experience necessary to support a level of competence. Usually, there is a period of time specified, but this is not necessarily relevant, as illustrated above. As I approach my dotage, I am cognisant of repeating what I have written previously. Obviously, if I do it is because it is worth repeating. Despite this latter comment, I do review where I have previously referred to a particular topic. In this case I searched on ‘experience’ and below I provide edited text that has been published in previous issues of NDT News.

August 2014: With technology changing so rapidly, it is no longer possible to attend training courses covering all of the various changes and updates that we are faced with in the workplace. What we tend to do is to teach ourselves the basics that we need to know in order to get by, achieve our objectives and then, over a period of time, we may refine that knowledge with the help of other people and sources of information.

April 2019: The most important place for sharing robust discussion is in the workplace with our colleagues. Do we give sufficient priority to this? Do we give enough time for feedback discussions after inspections? Experience is key to competence: do we ensure that practical experience regarding observed signals and defect responses is shared sufficiently? 

December 2006: Our learning is restricted by the jobs we are actually involved in and, from an NDT point of view, by the defects we happen to encounter – that is if the people we work with have the time to support on-the-job training. 

November 2005: I referred to how medicine has taken steps to improve the performance of personnel engaged in examining test data: laboratories should maintain a set of teaching slides and interesting case histories for review. Do we do enough of this in the NDT community? Do we communicate sufficiently regarding practical defect responses or indications?

December 2017: One way of doing this is to learn from our, or others’, experience. Without the hindsight from learning experiences, how can we prepare for the unexpected without burdening ourselves with countless, probably redundant, actions? 

August 2014: Experience should be formally planned and recorded. For it to be useful it needs to be challenging, focusing on weaknesses, and it has to include feedback that allows an approach to be fine-tuned. A review should be performed on what has been learned. 

March 2014: Before we have finished writing up one inspection, we are preparing for the next. The feedback that allows us to judge how well we did the job comes sometime after we have moved on to the next job, so the completion of the work is not well defined. This means that we do not always stop and take stock of personal work achievements and those we have contributed to as a team. Each of us can change this on a personal level and gain health benefits in the process. A recent study into stress found that if people take time at the end of the working day to positively reflect on what went well, be it personal or work-related, then they have less stress and improved health in the evening. Give it a go and take more beneficial satisfaction from a job well done. 

December 2018: Continuing professional development (CPD) is required of us all, to maintain our professional competence. In particular, all Engineering Council registrants make a commitment to maintain and enhance their competence. Recording of CPD undertaken will be mandatory for registered engineers and technicians. Additionally, CPD will require a reflective statement: how the meeting or activity added to your competence will help you perform better in the future. 

NDT apprenticeships are designed to provide new entrants with valuable experience and the mandatory CPD requirements for registered engineers and technicians is designed to enhance their experience. I would like to hear of any other initiatives that are in use to deepen individuals’ experience of NDT. Reflecting on my own experience of writing these columns means that I ask this more in hope than 

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. Email: or email Bernard McGrath direct at

Comments by members

This forum post has no comments, be the first to leave a comment.

Submit your comment

You need to log in to submit a Comment. Please click here to log in or register.

<< Back