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The Future of NDT is Female

The Future of NDT is Female

By Annabel Sebuc Sab-it, ASNT Face of NDT, NDT Level III and Production Area Manager at Moog

Everything happens for a reason. That’s why I believe there was a reason for me to find the field of nondestructive testing.

Nondestructive Testing (NDT) is the process of assessing equipment materials and components without damaging their integrity and operational ability. NDT consists of sixteen testing methods and techniques used in various industries to identify flaws and defects that must be addressed for maintenance purposes.

My students often say they found NDT accidentally, but I would beg to differ. For all of us, entering and excelling in this field was meant to be. Here is a snapshot of my path.

When I graduated high school, I initially wanted to become a newscaster. I attended a private university in the Philippines to pursue a bachelor’s degree in mass communication. A year later, however, I transferred to a state university and completely changed my career idea. That state university, known as the Technical University of the Philippines, did not offer communication classes, but did offer a wide array of science curricula. Although I was not keen to pursue a STEM career, I decided to embrace the academic challenge. So, I made the leap into mechanical engineering and NDT.

Like most university students, I was unfamiliar with the NDT field. I never expected NDT to become my career, nor did I think I would fall in love with the profession. 

During my time in the academic program, I became an ultrasonic testing (UT) technician. In this position, I was the only woman on the job site. I would often receive looks of confusion and even contempt from engineers and fellow inspectors that made me feel I did not belong. I would ask myself: am I really a woman alone in this industry?

As President of the Student Council, I discovered some of my fellow female students had similar feelings and experiences. Rather than letting the disparity get the best of me, I chose to view our position in this field of study, as lonely as it was, as a sign of fate. So, when my female cohorts told me they accidentally discovered NDT, I told them it was fate. There was a purpose behind it. 

In 2007, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Then, I began working in the aerospace industry. Throughout my academic career, I slowly came to love NDT and finally found passion for it in my career in aerospace. That said, I continued to face a workforce dominated by men. 

I was one of two women when I first joined joined Moog, Baguio Philippines Facility. Over a decade later, I was promoted to supervisor and product area manager. In this role, I sought to give more women a chance to prove themselves and thrive in this industry. This may have been the purpose fate originally had in mind for me.  Now, I am proud to say, we have six women on our team. We have made progress, but we can go further. 

 The engineering and NDT fields are historically male dominated, but women can and do still excel and succeed in these spaces. For those who believe the job of an NDT inspector is just for men, I am determined to prove them wrong, another purpose fate had in mind for me, I suppose. 

At this point in my career, I am well-positioned to give back. I joined the American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT) to get involved in advancing the field of NDT. Last year, I was thrilled to be selected as one of ASNT’s Faces of NDT to represent and promote to the world not only the organization, but the practice and profession of NDT.

In this role, I have been honored to serve as a spokesperson and share my passion for the industry to motivate other women like me to pursue a career in NDT. I have spoken at high schools and universities in the Philippines and beyond to teach students about careers in NDT and encourage these students, especially women, to consider pursuing the profession. Last year, I spoke at the ASNT Annual Conference in Houston, TX, to share my experiences and advise the students and young professionals present about how to succeed in the NDT industry.

When I recount my experience with students and encourage them to consider a career as an NDT inspector, I share my top three tips for success: integrity, communication and goal setting. 

Whether or not you are being seen and awarded for your work, it’s essential to maintain your honor and moral uprightness to show others you are trustworthy and capable. Moving through your career with integrity, the quality of being honest and upholding strong moral and ethical values, literally can mean the difference between life and death. NDT truly is all about making a safer world. To become a qualified inspector, one must, to the best of their ability, retain that awareness and apply the proper NDT methodology to the specific situation. Lives depend upon it.

Communication is vital to improve comprehension across the industry.  Engineers must engage in constant, transparent and plain-language conversations to accurately and effectively communicate about component maintenance and operation.

An individual’s “true north” guides each of these. To be successful in the dedicated pursuit and ambition of achieving your dream, you must follow your true north. It’s crucial to have a goal and develop a step-by-step plan for reaching your goal. Even today, as an experienced NDT professional, I remain oriented toward a goal. I refuse to believe I have hit the barrier of my career. 

As I encourage women to enter this industry, I constantly push myself to improve and make progress in my career. At ASNT, we lead the charge in mentorship efforts with programs like the RISE leadership development program. The RISE program is a 15-month exclusive leadership development program for young NDT professionals to help them hone their technical and leadership skills. I am very grateful to my mentor, Roger Engelbart, for his guidance and expertise through this program. Now I bear a responsibility to do for others what he did for me.  

Additionally, my work for ASNT’s Council for Women in NDT, which seeks to advocate, support and develop opportunities for women in the industry, has opened my eyes to the possibilities for women in NDT. As women in a male-dominated field, we are breaking the glass ceiling to gain equal representation in the industry.  Thanks to the work of this Council, if any inspector applies NDT analysis to that glass ceiling, they will find it has flaws because of our efforts. It may be the only instance in which defects are positives.

The future of the engineering and NDT industries will become increasingly female, with more and more women stumbling or even intentionally choosing the field and embracing a career in NDT. With our work to uplift women in the industry, I have faith I’ll see it come to fruition within my lifetime and help those who like me stumbled at first to ultimately stand up tall as leaders in this vital field.