Tales of the Trades shares just some of the millions of stories in the skilled industrial trades, shining a bright light on the hard-working tradesmen and women who build, operate and maintain 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.
Meet Emilie Peloquin. Emilie has been in the welding/NDT industry since 2009. She holds an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science in Non-Destructive Examination Technologies and is educated in a wide variety of NDE methods. Emilie joined Olympus in 2013 and has held positions ranging from technical support to product management, focusing on ultrasonic, phased array, and other advanced inspection technologies. As a Director of Global Advanced Product Support, she’s involved in business and product development, supporting a variety of applications across numerous industries. She is also the host of Inspect Tech, The Olympus NDT Podcast.
What led you to pursue a career in the trades, and specifically your chosen industry?
What got me into NDT was actually through welding. I am a former welder, and I discovered NDT by inspecting my own welds. In the shop where I was working, we were doing some LP, which stands for liquid penetrant. That’s really how I started to see what else you can do to look inside of a weld. I really loved welding, but it got a bit repetitive. The challenge disappeared a little bit. It was not as challenging, but it was still very enjoyable. As a career, I kind of wanted a bit more stimulation in some ways, so I found out about NDT and I was like, “I’m gonna go back to school, and I’m gonna give NDT a try.”
I was living in Quebec, Canada. There was a good opportunity to study in North Carolina for a specific program that was just for NDT. It was a three-year program, an Associate’s degree in science – and after that, you’re good to go. I was starting to look for NDT opportunities prior to enrolling, I checked on LinkedIn – there were so many jobs I had never heard about before.
There was a teacher there that gave me a tour of the classes and a few of the methods, and right away it clicked with me – I was like, “Wow, okay. I want to do just that.” There’s so much technology in it, but at the same time it’s very hands on, which I really like. That’s something that I need in my work and in my life, really. I got hooked right away, and I completed my Associate’s degree there. It’s just by coincidence that I fell into it.
Would you say there are any transferable skills between your career in welding and your career in NDT?
I think there’s definitely a crossover. I didn’t realize it at first, but the more I was getting into NDT, I realized that my welding background was extremely helpful for understanding what I was doing, especially for weld inspection. Just because if you know what not to do when you’re welding, you understand the defects that may occur in the weld, what works, and what doesn’t work. You know better what to look for, and that helps you in becoming a better inspector. During the NDT program, they were even teaching a little bit how to weld for the students that never welded before, because they considered it to be crucial to understand where the flaws are coming from. Also, you’re going to get dirty, you’re going to get in the trench, you’re going to go under. As an inspector, you need to be ready for that and be hands-on.
What is your favorite or most rewarding part about your trade?
The slogan for the American Society of Non-Destructive Testing is “to make the world a safer place”, and I really like that. I like the feeling that at the end of the day, you contributed in making the world around you safer. With the pandemic, that’s been a global focus. We start to realize how safety of our people is important, and NDT is right there trying to protect or to create a safer place – simple as that.
What does it take to be successful at what you do?
I think the most important thing is that I’m really passionate about it. I try to get younger folks to get into this industry as well. If there’s one thing I think that you really need, it’s to make sure that you look inside and have that integrity, because there’s nobody else to tell you if you’re doing it right or wrong. You’re gonna have a lot of pressure to say, “That was a good weld.” There’s a lot of welders looking at you, you’re maybe putting their job on the line, and you need to have the integrity to say “No. I trust my decision, I trust that I’ve done a good job, and I see a flaw and there is a flaw,” because nobody else can see it or interpret the data. Ultimately it’s about safety, so you really need that integrity. I think that’s the most important quality to have.
What do the trades mean to you, and what important lessons have you learned while working in the trades?
In welding, I was not too shocked to be the only woman there in the shop – it was common that I was the only one. But when I arrived in the NDT industry, I was really surprised to not see more women. Yes, it is hands-on, but it’s also part of engineering and has a lot to do with technology. I couldn’t really grasp why that was the case, because I thought it was the perfect fit for a lot of women.
I do have a podcast, and I interviewed Marybeth Miceli, and she was giving me some stats. And I love my numbers. She’s an engineer, and she said there were only 3% women in NDT in 1977 – that’s very low. Then she asked, “Do you know what that number is today?” in 2021, And, you know, okay, 2021? I thought maybe 25%, which is still pretty low. But she said 4%! That shocked me, because it should be so much more than this. I think it’s just not well known – it’s a hidden gem. I really think it is. I decided after that interview that I wanted to make it my mission to talk a little bit more about it. I think it’s so important that women know about this field, and that it’s an amazing field to be in. There’s no reason to stay away from it.
What is the biggest misconception about your work?
I think one of the misconceptions about the NDT out there is that some people don’t know that there are so many different technologies in the NDT world. It could be ultrasound – which is one of my fortes – or it could be liquid penetrant or magnetic particle, there’s so many. You can learn your entire career and improve on different methods, or you can really become an expert in one method. I think a lot of people don’t know about the wide variety of different methods that are available for an inspector and why it’s important.
You also don’t have to be on the road and traveling all the time. For younger folks, sometimes traveling is fine, but as you start to build a family and things of that nature, you might not always want to be on the road. I think that’s another misconception. There’s definitely a lot of options for people who are not as interested in traveling.
In the role that I am in right now, I actually support inspectors, so I’m not doing inspection in the field directly and I’m not the one signing the report – but I am the one now that supports using the equipment, so I make sure that everything is understood properly for ultrasonic inspection. If there’s a problem, we can support them by being there. Automation can help inspectors with making the right calls, but there’s still the human factor that is really hard to replace. We’re always trying to provide tools for inspectors so they can be very confident in their decision.
NDT is literally in everything. It’s really impressive once you start looking to see where it’s at – it can be the aviation in the plane, it can be in something as simple as the food you’re going to eat. When I started with Olympus, there was one application that we used our Thickness Gauge for, which was to measure the content of cheese versus macaroni in an industrial manufacturing of packages. That might seem trivial, but even the car that you’re driving, you might not realize how many components there are that have to be inspected to make sure there are no cracks or voids in the materials prior to you driving it. It’s really in every aspect of our life around us, but we don’t always realize it. It’s in everything – it’s everywhere.
What are your thoughts on the state of the trades right now industry-wise?
I don’t think we’re making progress fast enough, it’s still an aging industry. That’s why it’s important to talk about it, because we’re going to need inspectors here real soon as former inspectors start to retire. We certainly don’t want to have unqualified inspectors because they’re too green or businesses are short staffed. It’s important to have young folks starting in NDT. The sooner the better!
Any advice for those thinking about taking up an industrial trade?
Start by going online and checking out a few of the entry methods: ultrasonic testing, liquid penetrant or acoustic emission, things like that, just to give you an idea of the applications and different places where you could be working. There are more and more schools right now offering programs at community colleges or other places like training centers. You can look on the Olympus website – we have a lot of our own training partners. There are a lot of options. If you want to be specific about one method and go into one of those training centers and you’re there for a week, you can get started on doing some work.
Last but not least: what’s your favorite way to spend your free time?
I like to have the camper and our two dogs with my husband driving. We like to go and drive around and camp at a lot of different places. I’m also really into fitness – I’m into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I’ve been doing that for about a year, and I’m not really good at it but I really like it! I’m not doing as much welding as I’d like to, but I still love metal work.
Our thanks to Emilie for making time to share her story and industry insights with us.