NDT: just a career or our role in saving the planet?

The selection of a career lies on a continuum between two extremes. At one end of the spectrum, an individual has an early desire for a particular profession or job and follows the well-established route to achieve their goal. This is common to many professions, such as medicine, law, the armed forces and the major engineering disciplines, as well as vocational roles, such as a mechanic or hairdresser. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the serendipitous route taken by those who, at least in their early years, lack a clear vision of what they would like to do. These people tend to take it one step at a time, making decisions about what to study and what job to apply for when necessary and hoping that they discover a role that they can both succeed in and enjoy.

My own career has followed the latter path. The advert for the job that started my NDT journey attracted me for two main reasons: the combination of the role and the subject matter satisfied my desire to be involved in technical problem solving and it offered the opportunity to contribute to a service that was of benefit to society as a whole. OK, I admit that the salary also came into the equation, but only partially. If making money is the main objective, science and engineering are not the fastest routes to achieve it. The feeling that you are doing something worthwhile, making a contribution beyond your immediate environment, is a key motivational factor when it comes to choosing a career and a job.

Based on what I have heard about various individuals’ introduction to the world of NDT, I suspect that the majority of those in the profession did not set out with this as their primary career choice. Before I saw the advert, I had little idea that there was an NDT profession! Despite the efforts that have been made to promote NDT, and despite the ease at which information can be disseminated through social media, we still face a challenge at getting the message out that NDT is a viable career choice. The development of the new apprenticeship schemes by the industry and BINDT offer us an opportunity to get out and promote the benefits of choosing to work in NDT.

A ticker tape headline on an international news channel on 22 April 2017 ran: ‘One billion people in 192 countries take part in Earth Day’. There was a brief feature on the UK evening news showing footage of the March for Science, which occurred in various locations across the world and in a number of cities in the UK. The multinational marchers wanted to emphasise the vital role that science plays in peoples’ lives and in providing insight into our planet. Environmental & Climate Literacy was the campaign for the 2017 Earth Day. In addition to raising awareness of climate change, a deeper objective was to inspire everyone to act in support of environmental protection. Environmental and climate literacy is seen as a key ingredient for the development of green technologies and the associated generation of jobs. Science is the antidote for fake news and misinformation, which has become more prevalent through social media.

The limited coverage of Earth Day on television and in the newspapers the following day did not fill me with confidence, but I persisted and typed ‘Earth Day non-destructive testing’ into a search engine. Supporting a certain football team has inured me to disappointment, so the nil return had little emotional impact. However, this failure means there is an opportunity ripe for grasping. What other profession can match the protection that NDT gives to the environment?

When challenged to explain NDT to the uninitiated, we only have to cite the safety of air travel – something most people have experience of – to illustrate the contribution provided by the planned and effective application of NDT. While this is effective, it is only part of the story. NDT is on the front line when it comes to protecting the environment. The application of NDT during manufacture allows for efficient design and use of materials and ensures the integrity of the plant entering service. In-service inspection gives forewarning of potential failures and, hence, it avoids breakages, leakages and releases that could damage the environment. The application of NDT on ageing plant provides the justification for life extension, maximising the use of existing assets. The new technologies aimed at improving capability and providing online monitoring and SHM will add to the effectiveness of NDT as a protector from environmental damage and as a contributor to sustainability. What better motivation is there for choosing NDT as a career?

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, Midsummer House, Riverside Way, Bedford Road, Northampton NN1 5NX. Fax: +44 (0)1604 438300; Email: ndtnews@bindt.org or email Bernard McGrath direct at bernard.mcgrath@amecfw.com

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