Maybe you’re a seasoned welder who’s ready to take the next step in your career. Or, perhaps you’ve got a welding degree and you’re looking to expand your earning potential. In any case, pursuing certification so you can apply for CWI jobs may be the right move for you.
CWI stands for Certified Welding Inspector, the American Welding Society (AWS) certification that recognizes expertise in the discipline of welding inspection. Here, we’ll lay out what’s required to obtain this prestigious credential and explain how it can propel you into a lucrative and rewarding career as a certified welding inspector.
Administered by the AWS, CWI certification is recognized and highly regarded around the world. To receive it, a welder must demonstrate a high level of skill and a deep knowledge of the science, documentation and codes that pertain to welding inspection.
On the job, a CWI is responsible for ensuring that welded structures, from fences and pipelines to buildings and vehicles, are welded properly and conform to all pertinent specifications. They’re involved in all stages of a welding project, reviewing code documentation, inspecting materials, supervising the welding process, checking the finished product for discontinuities, and preparing reports.
Companies rely on CWI certification to know that they’re hiring extremely well qualified inspectors. This certification comes with a great deal of responsibility, so obtaining it is no small feat.
The CWI exam consists of three sections: a closed book test on fundamentals, a hands-on test that requires visual inspection and the use of a sample code book, and an open-book test that requires the test-taker to identify the correct code in the code book. The candidate must also pass a vision test.
All of the sections (aside from the vision test) are two hours long, and certification requires a minimum score of 72% in each area. If the candidate doesn’t meet this requirement for any of the sections, they have to wait a full year to try again and must complete an additional 40 hours of professional training in the meantime.
All of the above applies to the certification exam itself, but not just anyone can take the exam. To qualify for it, there is a list of requirements that candidates must meet first. We’ll discuss those a little later on, but first, let’s talk about why anyone would want to obtain such a rigorous certification.
Once you’ve put in the work and obtained your certification, you’re ready to apply for CWI jobs. A career as a certified welding inspector can be personally fulfilling, mentally engaging and financially lucrative.
Being a certified welding inspector is one of the best paying jobs in the welding industry. According to data from Payscale, the average CWI in the United States earns $27 an hour, or about $56,000 a year. Inspectors in the top 10th percentile make upwards of $43 an hour or about $90,000 a year.
Depending on where they work, CWIs may enjoy overtime pay, bonuses and/or profit sharing, and those who work in-house for a company will also have access to benefits like health insurance, dental insurance and a 401(k).
One of the best things about CWI jobs is their versatility. Countless industries employ welding inspectors, but some of the major ones are manufacturing, transportation, construction, oil and gas, critical infrastructure and aviation.
Ambitious welding inspectors who wish to specialize in one technique or material can pursue further certifications that will expand their earning potential even more. For example, some CWIs go on to pursue Level II or Level II nondestructive testing certification through the American Society of Nondestructive Testing (ASNT).
While working full time as an in-house welding inspector comes with benefits, stability and job security, jobs on the opposite end of the spectrum are also available. If you opt to work as a contractor, you’ll have a great deal of flexibility, choosing which jobs you work on and traveling frequently.
Though many contract CWI jobs pay a higher hourly rate than in-house positions, you must factor in the added expenses that come with working for yourself, like covering your own health insurance and self-employment taxes.
CWIs have the best of both worlds when it comes to travel options. If you want a job with the opportunity to work somewhere new all the time, being a certified welding inspector is hard to beat. CWI jobs can take you all over North America, with some of the best-paying opportunities being in California, New York, Virginia and Texas.
If your wanderlust extends even further, you could easily see the world while working in this field, with CWI jobs available from Northeast Asia to the Middle East and beyond.
Now that we’ve covered the key benefits of becoming a certified welding inspector, it’s time to get down to the details of what it’ll take to get there.
Becoming a CWI takes a mix of education and experience. The two go hand in hand and are inversely proportional; the less formal education you have, the more practical work experience you need to qualify for the exam, and vice versa.
So, for example, if you have a bachelor’s degree in welding technology or a comparable area, you only need one year of welding-based work experience. If you have a high school diploma, you’ll need at least five years’ work experience.
If you choose to pursue a four-year degree before starting your welding career, a bachelor’s degree in welding technology or welding engineering is the way to go. These degrees (or higher) will allow you to take the CWI exam with the fewest years of work experience.
For an associate’s degree, majoring in welding, engineering, or physical science is a good choice. Trade and vocational courses are also helpful and can be counted toward the education requirement for the CWI exam.
In addition to outside education, AWS offers a dedicated seminar to help candidates study for the CWI exam. This intensive course is a deep review of welding inspection science, documentation, and techniques. It’s led by an instructor over the course of six days. You’ll select the focus of your seminar based on the code you plan on working the most with (AWS D1.1 for structural steel or API 1104 for welded pipelines).
Both the seminar and the exam come with a heavy time and financial investment, so only serious students should enroll. Your investment proves you’re committed to the serious, impactful work of being a certified welding inspector.
Work experience as a welder is a helpful step along the path to becoming a CWI, but it’s not a hard and fast requirement. There are lots of other jobs that can be used to meet the work experience requirement. Previous work in fabrication, equipment repair, construction, manufacturing, pipefitting and ironworking, for example, could all feed into becoming a CWI.
The AWS doesn’t take the work experience requirement lightly; you’ll need to provide written documentation from each employer proving that you did the work you say you did.
If you don’t have enough years of work experience, you can still take the CWI exam. If you pass it with the required 72% score on all sections but lack the required practical work, you’ll be certified as a Certified Associate Welding Inspector (CAWI). You can then start working as a CAWI, with each accrued year of experience being counted toward your CWI certification. When you’ve logged enough time, you can submit a form and pay a fee to upgrade to CWI without taking the exam all over again.
In addition to meeting the education and experience requirements to take the CWI exam, you’ll need a few more things:
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