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 the industrial sectors and ensure their success over the coming decades.
This month, the spotlight is trained on Marybeth Miceli, C.Eng. from Los Angeles, CA, who herself is a beacon in the field of Nondestructive Testing (NDT). With a background in Materials Science and Engineering, Ms. Miceli is the President of Miceli Infrastructure Consulting and Co-Founder and Principal of the We-NDT Marketing Network.
In addition to her executive roles above, she was appointed by the NDT Management Association (NDTMA) Board to serve as the association’s Executive Director, effective July 1, 2020.
Photo credit: Marybeth Miceli, C.Eng.
Thanks for making time to chat with us, Marybeth. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Well, I own two businesses. The first is Miceli Infrastructure Consulting, and that one’s been around for 10 years. We help bridge owners and technology manufacturers in NDT and Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) speak the same language so they can get actionable data to help ensure the integrity of their bridges.
The other business, which I co-own, is We-NDT Marketing Network, which helps companies that operate in or serve the NDT industry better communicate their brand and articulate their value proposition to customers. We-NDT also just launched a new online resource for NDT—NDTnow.com—which features industry news as well as original content such as podcasts with prominent voices in the industry, NDT business/management topics, tech demos and more.
I’ve also been very active with industry organizations American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT) and the NDT Management Association (NDTMA). I also support AATA, an organization that provides no-cost NDT training and apprenticeships for those who are at or below the poverty line as well as women and other underserved populations in the industry.
I am the mother of two and have a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. I also enjoy teaching the martial art via Zoom on the weekends during the quarantine.
It sounds like you came into the industry and found problems to solve. What were the issues that led you to create these companies and platforms?
I started my career in New York City in 2001, doing NDT work on everything from trains to the antenna on the Empire State Building to the remaining buildings at Ground Zero after 9-11. And lots of bridges, which are what I tend to work on now.
Engaging with owners during my early bridge inspection work, I discovered that they didn’t have a solid understanding of Structural Health Monitoring (SHM). I worked with this innovative sensor company that basically made EKG patches, but for bridges, so they could tell you if you had growing cracks well ahead any issues. As SHM was relatively new at the time, I realized that owners needed an independent third-party that could help them write scopes of work for installations that would get them actionable data that they could use to make better decisions.
The model was simple. At the time I started the company, owners would often allocate hundreds of thousands of dollars to “trying out” different technologies, amass a ton of data, but then wouldn’t know what to do with it all. Seeing that need in the market, I centered my work on helping owners evaluate new technologies, vet service providers, and write the scopes of work. So instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, they would spend fifty thousand dollars on a project that gave them information they could use to make repair decisions, maintenance decisions, rehabilitation decisions, and then make sure those decisions drove the desired integrity outcomes.
Fast-forward to today, there’s a big gap right now (in NDT) where you’ve got a lot of industry veterans retiring, fewer young people coming into the industry, and not a lot of mid-career folks who have both the industry experience and are open-minded and comfortable using newer technologies. So, as retirement from the industry has begun to accelerate, it’s been the perfect time for me to focus on bridging the gap and helping the industry I love successfully transition to the next generation of NDT techs.
What do you see for the future of NDT?
The future of NDT is very exciting. What’s great about our industry is that—even though we are in a challenging economic climate right now—NDT is always needed, NDT is always evolving, and asset integrity and safety remain critical imperatives for the industry sectors served by NDT. There’s always a new technology, a new platform, a more advanced way of doing things.
Right now we’re on the cusp of some breakthrough innovations. We’ve got unmanned aerial systems (drones), robotic crawlers, robotic boats. Automation and robotics are going to be used more and more, particularly in hazardous environments or confined spaces. While these are certainly tough times for many across our industry, I think it’s a good time for inspectors—especially if they’ve been furloughed or laid off—to dedicate some time to acquire some of the new skills that can help advance their careers as these new technologies emerge.
It’s also really important to understand that robots and other new technologies can’t be run by just anyone. For example, unless you’re a bridge inspector, you don’t know where to position the robot, and when you see a potential discontinuity, you won’t know whether it needs more investigation by an NDT method, and then you have to be able to analyze the data captured by both the robot and the traditional method.
So, for a new generation of inspectors entering the NDT field, how would you encourage them to succeed in a field with a growing generational gap?
You have to be a sponge and really soak up all of the information because these older guys might not know robotics, but they (definitely) know what the problem is when they’re looking at a pipeline or similar asset. They know how to look at the potential problem and immediately understand what it indicates. They have the in-field experience that is priceless.
Expect to work extremely hard when you enter the industry. Learn as much as you can. If guys are willing to stay late and teach you more, take advantage of every opportunity. Like many of the skilled industrial trades, there is a generation gap in NDT. Folks with decades of invaluable experience are or are going to be retiring, and there are so few people in the mid-career stage, that it is critical that successful knowledge transfer happens and that “the big crew change” occurs smoothly.
As a new entrant to NDT, you can also help accelerate the adoption of robotics and other new technologies—from the back office to the field—while respecting the industry and company foundations laid down before you. Change is generally good in the end, but it takes patience and persistence to achieve sustainable positive outcomes.
You have also been instrumental in advancing Women in NDT…
Ten years ago I was serving on the ASNT Board, which is a 3-year term. Two of the three years, I was the only woman on the Board. Last year, I finished another 3-year term during which I was the only woman for the entire term. In 1977, NDT had 3% women working in the field. Today, in 2020, it is 4%.
Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects and careers are not marketed well to women, from young students to working adults. Studies show that women generally want to drive change or help people through the work they do, so if the NDT industry is not promoting itself in that light, it likely won’t appeal to that segment of the population.
But NDT technicians ensure the safety of millions of people every day; that’s a huge positive impact!
Yes, it is! That’s why, about 7 years ago, I started the social media hashtag campaigns #whyIndt and #unsungheroes to help people tell their stories in NDT and raise awareness about the industry. Because ordinary citizens don’t know what NDT is, let alone realize that NDT techs work tirelessly to ensure the safety of the world around us every day. Our industry reduces economic harm, injuries and fatalities. If that’s not a career that helps people, then I don’t know what is.
We couldn’t agree more. OK, back to the topic of women in NDT…
About 10 years ago I started thinking, “how do we promote more women in NDT?” and more specifically, about creating an industry award to recognize companies or individuals who encourage women to go into the field. It could be a man who is hiring women and providing a safe environment for them to learn and grow in the industry, or it could be a company or another woman who leads by example. It took 4 years to get the award program in place with the support of ASNT leadership, and I’m super proud of that because it brings more female faces to the forefront of NDT and highlights different perspectives in and contributions to our industry.
A few years ago, ASNT also condensed its divisions and I thought, “wouldn’t it be great if we had an outreach division” which could get the word out about NDT and also focus on women, veterans and other underrepresented populations? Today, we have a Women’s Committee and a Veteran’s Committee under the umbrella of the Outreach Division, and as of Fall 2019, I am the chair of the Women’s Committee. As March is Women’s History Month, a “Women in NDT” article in ASNT’s Materials Evaluation magazine that month generally honors past, present and future women in the industry.
At the 2020 national conference later this Fall, the Women’s Committee is sponsoring a session track on leadership, open to all attendees. We are going over leadership in general, leadership in NDT, but also some professional skills, such as how to interview, and how to deal with questions that, frankly, may not be appropriate. We hear a lot of stories from women in the industry who have walked into interviews and been asked things such as, “when are you going to have kids?” or “why don’t you want to just get married and have a family?”
We are going to have some HR people there to really help interviewers and interviewees understand appropriate questions. We will have mock interviews and talk about communication skills. It’s sponsored by the women, but it’s open to everyone. And we are also having a Women in NDT reception.
I’m really excited about the strides we are making now, but it’s been a decade of hard work to get to this point, and we’ve a long way to go.
You have been highlighting important issues in NDT throughout your career—whether it’s promoting industry diversity, advancing women in NDT, or driving adoption of new technologies. And We-NDT has just launched NDTnow.com. What are your goals for this new initiative?
The goal for NDTnow.com is really to bring a modern, fresh news outlet to the NDT industry. We carefully curate great stories from around the industry and from the sectors we serve, whether it’s Oil & Gas or Nuclear or Aviation & Aerospace and present them on single, go-to industry resource site.
There’s so much noise now on places like LinkedIn that it’s hard to find really good material to read and learn from, and people in NDT like to learn all the time. The podcast series we feature on the site are literally telling stories from across our industry. We started our podcast series off with We’ve Got Your Six, which asks 6 questions of NDT industry icons. Our first episode was with Danny Keck, Secretary-Treasurer of ASNT, and he’s a great storyteller. He’s got some very funny stories about how he got into the industry and such.
The Level Up podcast series lets anyone in our audience ask a Level III some questions about how to become a Level III or what a Level III does. This series is ideal for NDT technicians who’ve been in the industry for some time, have some experience under their belt, and are interested in advancing their careers.
Our Gain podcast series is all about NDT business, management, and leadership topics. Many Level III’s become business owners, and we offer information about all the things that go into operating a business such as management, finance, marketing, and other important, non-technical topics.
NDTnow.com also features product demo videos from prominent NDT equipment manufacturers. With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting travel and large scale, in-person events, there are no trade shows, industry conferences or in-office demos, so we are using the site to offer manufacturers a new channel to educate the industry about their offerings. It’s a great way for people to learn about new technologies and products in a safer, more convenient manner.
For those who prefer to read, our most popular article right now is one by Toni Bailey where she outlines the business impacts of making the switch from Film Radiography to Digital Radiography. Change management is often overlooked when considering a new technology, but practices such as your specification writing have to evolve, as will a lot of other business processes.
At its core, the NDTnow.com initiative is really focused on bringing the whole industry together and increasing awareness of those not yet in it. The ASNT folks, the NDTMA folks, the API folks can now all turn to a shared resource and community to stay on top of the industry and move it forward.
Surehand is focused on reducing labor shortages and underemployment in NDT and other skilled industrial trades. How can we best help?
I think Surehand has been a tremendous partner for the industry already, really pushing the envelope of how we do business. You came in and saw a real problem in terms of talent sourcing—helping employers find best-fit NDT techs and inspectors for open positions and helping inspectors gain access to opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
The industry has long relied on offline networking—using personal black books to to connect people with work—but that doesn’t scale very well. Surehand is an exciting new hiring platform that helps the employer and the technicians alike. Technicians can keep all of their professional information in one secure place—their skills, work experiences, certifications, and the app can generate a resume for them if they need it to apply for work. Employers gain an on-demand talent search engine tuned to our industry that reduces the hunt for “needle in the haystack” talent from months to minutes. That’s a win-win.
Surehand has also quickly taken a prominent position in driving industry awareness and educating folks about what NDT is, why it’s so important, and how to enter the industry. The blog has a lot of really good information on it for those considering NDT and industrial inspection as a career path, and the entire Surehand team is super active on social media, which I think is really important for spreading the word.
Simply put, you’re connecting tradespeople with employment opportunities that are best-fit for their backgrounds and qualifications and eliminating a lot of the heavy lifting typically associated with applying for jobs on generic job sites or even company career pages. I think that work alone is going to improve the overall health of our industry and bring our recruiting and hiring practices into the 21st century.
Hero image photo credit: Marybeth Miceli, C.Eng.
Our thanks to Marybeth for making time to share her story and industry insights with us. We look forward to watching her push the NDT envelope and wish her continued success on all fronts.
Looking for a faster, more cost-effective way to find and recruit NDT and industrial inspection talent? Don’t just take Marybeth’s word for it. Click here to learn more about our unlimited hiring platform for the skilled industrial trades and create your Surehand Employer account.
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