The Surehand® Spotlight shares just some of the many thousands of stories in the skilled industrial trades, shining a bright light on the hard-working tradesmen and women who build, operate, maintain, and ensure the safety of the world we live in. We also focus on the individuals and organizations working hard to advance industrial sectors and ensure their success over the coming decades.
This month, we shine the spotlight on Kiera Jones, a Level II NDT Inspector from Louisiana. We recently spoke with Kiera about getting into NDT, what it takes to be a good inspector, and bridging the gap between the younger and older generations of inspectors.
Photo credit: Kiera Jones
As far as Oil & Gas, I’ve been in the industry for probably 12 years now. I actually started off as a fire watch and a hole watch. I decided that I actually liked the work being that it was plentiful in my area and decided that I would like to advance my career in that same industry. So I got into inspections and actually paid for and took all my own courses.
I actually became aware of inspections just by being observant. As a hole watch, I was the person protecting the folks who were accessing the confined space. I would pay attention to the type of work they were doing when they were going in and ask them about the different crafts. I saw some UT Thickness Inspectors with a step-lock, taking some UT Thickness readings. I asked them about it, learned what the industry entailed and enrolled in some courses. I took my courses, paid for them all out of my own pocket, and then worked with a Houston-based company that provided some staffing for companies that needed turn-around support. And then I transitioned with a larger company, Versa Integrity Group, where I developed a lot more. That’s where I first got my experience doing UT Shear Wave (UTSW) inspection. I was already doing some UTSW with my previous company, but I hadn’t gotten the chance to do the field work. So, I got some experience with that, learned the API’s and the rest is history.
The very first class I took was the Magnetic Particle (MT) course. The curriculum is written, it requires a certain amount of material be covered, but it doesn’t necessarily specify in what order. I was fortunate that the very first NDT course that I took gave me an introduction into the different defects and discontinuities that you could encounter. By the time I enrolled in my second course—which was the Liquid Penetrant (PT) testing course—I was already familiar with what I was looking for. I just needed to find the new method of actually looking for it. The next course I took was the Ultrasonic Thickness (UTT) course. I think those three are pretty much the most basic courses. Liquid Penetrant (PT) and Magnetic Particle (PT), those two methods are oftentimes interchangeable.
A lot of employers don’t necessarily want to hire you if you only have one or the other because they don’t know which one is necessarily going to be required. Because of that, they would prefer that a technician be certified in both methods, so depending on what the code or the client requires, you’re able to service them regardless. The Ultrasonic Thickness (UTT) course is pretty much one of the most basic methods because you’re constantly having to keep up with the levels of corrosion inside these vessels. They’re always going to be checking and making sure they get thorough readings to keep up with the way the processes are affecting the metal composition. So that’s something that’s pretty common and that’s why it’s also something I’d recommend having.
And there’s also Visual (VT) inspection that you want to have, because obviously you’re going to want to know what you’re looking at before you try to deal with anything going on under the surface.
The way the SNT-TC-1A recommendation is written, it requires a combination of operations in order for one to be considered “qualified.” Included in that is the classroom training and the on the job training and then there’s the testing that’s required in order to be employable. Taking the courses only prepares you for the classroom training portion of that. Even though you walk out of class familiar with the material and processes, the actual application often throws in curveballs that you may not have covered in a general learning environment.
ASNT specifies that you have to have some training on the job because there’s certain things you encounter in real world experience that you just can’t simulate in a classroom setting. So to answer your question, I guess it’s two parts. Out of class, I felt prepared, however it wasn’t until I actually started working that I realized there is only so much preparation you can do, which is why that on the job training is actually crucial to being proficient doing that craft.
I love the flexibility. NDT provides endless opportunity, in the sense that you can branch off in so many different directions. Whether you choose to go into the fixed equipment inspections (API 510, 570, 653) or go out onto the pipelines, both offer completely different work environments. There’s offshore work where you’re in a more isolated setting. I also like the fact that it can be constant or it can fluctuate depending on what your desires are.
I have experience working as a full time W-2 employee for a company where I’m at a site and doing the same functions on a daily basis with very little variance, and I’ve also been in a situation where I worked as an independent contractor, bouncing from project to project. So on one project I might be working as a CWI on a pipeline checking welds and excavations and on the next project I could be doing Phased Array UT (PAUT) on boiler tubes inside this huge piece of equipment, so I love that. I’m not really a person for monotony, so I like the adventure aspect of it.
Hands down, the very first thing is always going to be integrity. You need to have integrity. A lot of people are drawn to this industry because they find out that it can be really lucrative. The problem with that is sometimes when you work in quality and you walk into it without a quality mindset you actually put a lot of people in danger and you change the perspective of others toward the industry. For instance, if you’re on a job and there is no one there to check and make sure you did what that report says you did, and you have to understand that someone’s life could be riding on you doing a thorough inspection to make sure that this equipment is suitable for the service that it’s intended for. Should you choose to either short-cut that process or completely disregard it altogether could be the difference between someone going home safely at the end of their shift or not. That’s something that I think you just can’t take lightly.
Aside from that, I think you need to be someone who is prepared to take initiative and be assertive. A lot of times this job will present obstacles that you may not have been thoroughly prepared for and you need to be able to adapt without having to be instructed.
For instance, you may be provided some information that is inaccurate and in an attempt to get accurate information, you may run into a dead-end. But that inspection still needs to be completed and oftentimes the person who is directing you to get the job done is not necessarily equipped with what you need to get it done. They just know they need it done and it’s very time sensitive. In that case, you need to be able to adapt and use all of the information at your disposal to figure out that missing piece of the puzzle and get the job done.
This happens fairly often. I’ve been on jobs where my equipment was not working properly. I’ve been on jobs where I’ve had to ask “what type of metal is this?” (they didn’t know) so there’s a test to find out what type of metal that is, and I guess we need to add another step to the process. They’re going to expect you to be proficient at your job and that goes for any obstacles that may be presented along the way.
The last thing I would say is that you have to be patient. Being an inspector and working in quality, you have to understand that you’re not a person who is making a client money. You’re actually going to be slowing things down and ensuring that things are done properly. Oftentimes you’ll deal with a lot of pushback and a lot of people who don’t necessarily want to understand budgeting or things of that nature and you still have to remain professional. I use the term patient because sometimes you’re not given a lot to work with and you’re still expected to do your job in a professional manner.
To not allow anybody to box me in. I could have very easily stayed in positions that were suitable for the company, but would have stunted my growth in the industry. Oftentimes just the attempt at growing was a humongous risk because it wasn’t necessarily a supported decision. You can’t be so afraid of losing what you have that you risk the opportunity to move to the next level. In the immediate aftermath of my making a risky decision, it did not feel like a benefit, but in the long run it paid off. Every single time.
I think the change we’re seeing in NDT is trending across different industries, I think the world is starting to become more focused on diversity and inclusion. It’s no more asking for permission, we’re just taking our rightful places in society. Honestly, as I move through the NDT industry, I’m encountering more and more diversity in the workplace, and it’s actually quite refreshing. I think that the change is already taking place, and I think that it’s being welcomed because it’s happening across the board.
I’ve seen the conventional, traditional way of doing things and I’ve also been there to see really great breakthroughs in the industry. Being young, it would seem as if my advice would be to grab a hold of innovations and new technologies, but in actuality my response is a little bit more of a cautionary tale.
With the new technology, I feel like a lot of the foundational knowledge is starting to be abandoned and I think it’s causing a degradation of the quality. Some things are meant to be done in a more efficient way, but that does not necessarily mean you’re allowed to forget the principles that govern this. One thing about the equipment and technology: ultimately it fails.
And when you don’t have the foundational learning to know exactly what to. I mean, it’s the same argument as using a calculator as opposed to math manually. You need to be receptive to the more experienced inspectors, because sometimes they are not as technologically sound and that will often give younger inspectors a sense of entitlement because they feel as though they’re the new and improved version. But there’s a lot of knowledge out there. In evolving beyond some of the older mindset and methods, we also lose wisdom. It’s important to come in and not be so concerned with implementing just what you’ve learned, but be open to learning what has come before you.
It’s critical for younger and older generations to work on bridging that gap because I’ve seen a lot of clashing in the industry. There’s this battle of experience versus education. There’s a lot of younger inspectors who have taken all these classes, but they’ve never gotten the chance to apply their learning. And they’re not as receptive to the more seasoned guys who may not know how to do it their way, but they know how the job needs to be done. And the same thing can be said of the older generation that is not as receptive to new ways of doing things. This technology is being developed so that we can make these processes more efficient. They’re not designed to replace you, they’re there to improve the processes and outcomes. Bridging the generational gap is critical for advancing the industry.
I like to hang out on my very comfortable porch. Honestly, because of the way that I work, it is very exhausting because I do a lot of travel work, so I’m living out of a suitcase, I’m in a hotel, eating pre-packaged lunches. So in my downtime, I just really enjoy spending time with my family. I enjoy reading, I enjoy outdoor activities. I like to be moving around. If it’s something that’s physically engaging, then I’m all for it.
Our thanks to Kiera for making time to share her story and industry insights with us.
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