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 Paul Holloway. Paul is the President of Holloway NDT & Engineering Inc., a Professional Engineer and UT Level 3 based out of Ontario, Canada. He has a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and has nearly 20 years experience in ultrasonic testing. He specializes in providing field services, research and development, NDT training and consulting. He regularly publishes articles for industry journals and hosts a popular YouTube channel related to UT.
What led you to pursue a career in the trades, and specifically your chosen industry?
I’m an engineer. I got into NDT by virtue of losing my job at other engineering companies. There was a research spot open at the University for a Master’s degree, and it ended up being involved in NDT. I decided to pursue that Master’s degree, and that’s what opened the door for me into the world of trades. The next opportunity was at a smaller NDT company, but to be the manager. At smaller NDT companies, you’re a working manager, so this was like slowly walking into a cold lake and you have to warm up to it. Sooner or later, I found myself in a position where I was working alongside my reports and enjoying that more than I enjoyed sitting in the office answering phone calls and reviewing reports. The stress of management was killing me – I couldn’t sleep, I wasn’t eating right.
A friend called me and said he was in the trades. He was a one man show, and he asked me, “How about you come out to scrub tubes?” I said okay, and I went and just scrubbed tubes for a week. And I had such a good time! That was my catalyst to quit my job and form a one person non-destructive testing and engineering company. I was going to take my engineering side and my non-destructive side and offer them as essentially a contractor. There was hesitancy, because I felt as though I’d gone to school for a very long time, like, “what am I giving up here? Is this the right move?” I called somebody who has a PhD in engineering who did exactly the same thing. He wears coveralls all the time, works by the hour, and he said, “Paul, it’s the best thing I ever did.”
There was a move for mental health on my side to just be your own boss, but it was also the satisfaction of doing a job that you could start and finish, put your name on a report and push it this way, and on to the next one. In engineering… that’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to do. Engineering jobs go on and on and on. In the trades role that I put myself into more, you can plan for a job, quote, a job plan for a job, execute the job, deliver the report, have a post job meeting, and then it’s done! And it gets notched in your list of completed projects, never to rear its head again. It was much more satisfying for me to do that.
What’s your favorite part about your trade?
As an engineer, your exposure to the trades folks is more so in a management role, so your ability to be friendly with your reports is difficult. It’s a difficult thing to be somebody’s manager… you can’t be a parent and a best friend at the same time. Going out on my own meant that the people that I worked with weren’t my reports anymore – they are now to be my friends. So you build this huge circle. The NDT world is so amazing – it’s one degree of separation. It’s insane that it doesn’t matter who I talk to, they all know the same person I know, and now I know them and I formed that link. The nice thing is that now that I can work with these people and be friends with these people, the network that I’ve created is easily 10 times the size it was when I didn’t have that freedom.
What do the trades mean to you, and what important lessons have you learned while working in the trades?
Integrity is one of the things that they drill into you. Integrity is paramount. In the trades, it became extremely transparent. Integrity and not being a pushover. We deliver bad news – that’s what we do. I find cracks you can’t see with sound you can’t hear. That’s my job. So it’s an extremely painful conversation for me to tell you “that really expensive tank car that you want to roll out the back of the shop tomorrow? It’s not going.” there are inspectors that will say “I didn’t see that.” It’s obvious who those people are. When you build your circle, one of those lessons I learned with being in the trades is that the best rise to the top really fast based on integrity and hard work. It’s super easy to find those people and see through the people that aren’t like that.
What is the biggest misconception about your work?
When you’re in high school, and you will see the guidance counselor, they don’t tell you to be a welder, or a pipe fitter. It’s sold kind of as an unglamorous or unwanted, undesirable position to be in the trades. It’s not unglamorous – these are important jobs, and tough, strong-willed, integrity-rich people do these jobs, and we need more of those people whether they’re people that graduate with straight A’s or straight C’s. Some of the best NDT techs I know have no post secondary education. It’s just passion. If you go into it with a passion, a genuine interest, and you’re the type of person that really takes the job seriously, you don’t need straight A’s and trig in order to do ultrasonic testing.
What are your thoughts on the state of the trades right now industry-wise?
I definitely think it’s getting better, and that may just be my perspective, because I’m getting into it further. I’m starting to meet more people that come from a more diverse background than what I would have expected. I’ve got two kids in school – one in elementary, one in high school. When I went to school, yeah, we had to take a shop class, but you bake cookies for four months and then you cut plastic for four months – and that’s your whole exposure to shop, and you kind of do it reluctantly. But now I see my kids have an amazing place at the high school where they actually have a whole car, and they have to take the whole car apart and then they put the whole car back together again. I never had that opportunity. The number of people that are leaving [due to aging out] I don’t think yet meets the number of new people that are coming in, but I think it’s headed in the right direction.
Any advice for those thinking about taking up an industrial trade?
There’s great opportunity for advancement and continuous improvement with the trades. It has a lot more chances for personal development than maybe your traditional desk position. See that vision at the beginning, see it more as a series of steps, whereas, versus one 10 foot ledge. You can go further with continuous improvement than you can trying to scale this one giant wall that may look insurmountable at the beginning. If money is your only goal, it’s a great option. But beyond that, once you’ve made a bunch of money, what makes you happy? You need to have job satisfaction, you need to know that you’re going somewhere. With NDT and trades in general, there’s many more avenues to build yourself.
Last but not least: what’s your favorite way to spend your free time?
My main thing is music. I plan a project called Skeptosphere with a buddy of mine in Brazil. Of course my family, my wife, and my kids – that goes without saying. But when I’m not doing research projects or in coveralls and stuff, I’m in this room with my guitar or keyboards.
Our thanks to Paul for making time to share his story and industry insights with us.
You can connect with Paul on LinkedIn here.