Learn How To Become a Certified NACE Coating Inspector

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In 1943, the National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE) was established to create an organization for engineers that focused on corrosion control. Between the turn of the century and the 1930s, the corrosion control industry grew immensely and cathodic protection, a now-common corrosion prevention method, became widely used.

Today, that same organization has become an international enterprise and has tens of thousands of members. The industry is looking ahead to steady growth, especially as more oil and gas pipelines are planned for construction in the United States.

What is a NACE-certified inspector?

There are a few job opportunities open to those who would like to focus on corrosion control. The NACE International Institute offers certifications for coating inspectors, cathodic protection professionals, general corrosion specialists, general coating specialists, pipeline workers and multiple other specialty certifications.

Each of these certifications also offers multiple levels of skill and job titles for qualified workers. All of these workers assist in corrosion control for structures that require protective coatings in order to function correctly, such as oil and gas pipelines, bridges, ships and other maritime structures.

Coating inspectors work in multiple industries (e.g. ship coatings), but inspectors can specialize in protective coating for construction. These inspectors will learn how to inspect protective coatings, as well as apply and inspect paint coatings. There are three possible certification levels for coating inspectors, as well as specialty certifications for those looking to work in the nuclear, bridge or maritime industries.

Cathodic protection is a method for preventing corrosion on metal surfaces. Cathodic protection professionals can choose to become certified as CP testers, technicians, maritime technicians, technologists or specialists, with each position having a different set of expectations and responsibilities.

The NACE General Corrosion Program equips specialists with knowledge of multiple corrosion control methods and technologies. Depending on their specific certification, generalists may work in the refining industry, work on offshore structures or combine their knowledge of cathodic protection with protective coating or metallurgy techniques.

A general coatings specialist will obtain much of the same knowledge and training that a coating inspector does, but will work in a more specialized area. Certified Coating Applicators and Protective Coating Technicians have advanced knowledge of industrial paint coatings, while S-CAT Technicians specifically work on ships, tanks and other military structures.

There are also NACE-certified technicians that work solely on oil and gas pipelines. These workers may earn their certification as an Internal Corrosion Technologist, which focuses on corrosion issues that happen within the pipeline, or as a Pipeline Corrosion Integrity Management Technician or Technologist, which both apply their knowledge to the overall integrity of the pipeline system.

The NACE International Institute also offers multiple specialty certifications for experienced professionals who want to further their NACE education in a specific area. Specialists can earn certifications in carbon steel, corrosion-resistant alloys, protective coatings or advanced corrosion techniques.

Education required for a NACE certification

All of the possible career paths for NACE-certified workers require candidates to complete a certain amount of training hours and pass exams before they can earn their certifications. NACE International provides both in-person and online courses for students to choose the learning method that works best for them.

NACE International has two brick-and-mortar training facilities where thousands of students – both American and international – start their NACE education each year.

The Elcometer building in Houston, Texas provides over 125 courses as well as hands-on training experiences to NACE students. Candidates can also choose to start their training at the NACE International Training Center in Dubai, UAE.

Students that cannot make it to either of the NACE training facilities can also choose to pursue their education online. The Institute of Corrosion is just one organization that offers online courses to NACE candidates.

Students should note the requirements for their intended course of study before beginning; some courses, such as those for coating inspectors, require a certain amount of experience before beginning. However, courses for painting inspectors through the Institute of Corrosion do not require candidates to have a certain amount of experience before beginning.

Once students have completed the required training and coursework for their specialty, they can take their exams at either of the two NACE training facilities or online through NACE International.

Apart from the two flagship training facilities, NACE International partners with Pearson VUE, which provides over 5,000 testing centers all over the world. Through NACE International’s online testing programs, students can have a more accessible way to earn their certifications by choosing the location and time that works best for them.

They can also check their exam results more quickly and access an exam overview to learn more about the areas that they excel in or the subjects that they need to review.

Although every NACE-certified employee must obtain the correct amount of training and education from a certified organization, certain career paths also require a preliminary college education. For example, the Cathodic Protection Specialist program requires students to have achieved at least two years of post-high school education in math or science. Specifically, the NACE asks that these specialists complete college or university-level courses in algebra, geometry and trigonometry.

NACE coating inspector salary

Salaries for NACE-certified workers change with different certifications and skill levels. For example, a starting salary for a coating inspector may only be around $19,500, although the national average reaches $58,550 and salaries top out around $151,500.

Coating Inspector salaries also change with their level of certification. The average salary for a Level 2-certified inspector is reportedly around $74,365, while a Level 3-certified inspector can earn an average salary of $78,578.

Once a worker becomes NACE-certified, they can gain work experience that will allow them to reach a higher certification later on, as well as earn a higher average salary.


NACE International provides a comprehensive list of the requirements needed for all NACE career paths and possible certification types. Some career paths, such as the Level 1 Coatings Inspector, simply require candidates to complete the required training courses and pass the certification exams.

Once a candidate obtains their Level 1 Coatings Inspector certification, they can advance to higher levels by completing additional work experience (two years for a Level 2, five years for a Level 3) and passing the required certification exams for that level.

Other certification programs, such as the Cathodic Protection program, have a minimum level of CP-related work experience required. The Cathodic Protection Tester certification requires at least 6 months of CP-related work experience, which increases as the certifications become more advanced.

A Cathodic Protection Specialist must have at least 12 years of advanced CP work experience, as well as at least two years of college-level math and science courses.

NACE International’s General Corrosion certification program also has education prerequisites in addition to the required work experience and training for certain positions.

A Refining Corrosion Technologist must have either a high school diploma or equivalent as well as four years of work experience, while candidates with a bachelor’s degree in either physical sciences or engineering only need a minimum of two years of work experience.

As the General Corrosion certifications advance, candidates will need to obtain additional certifications before beginning a new course. For example, a Senior Corrosion Technologist, the most advanced GC certification, will often need to complete certification for some of the lower-level GC roles and other NACE certifications, in addition to at least eight years of work experience and a bachelor’s degree in physical sciences or engineering.

NACE candidates looking to enter a specific field, such as maritime or carbon steel, have specialized certifications that they will need to complete. General coating workers who would like to apply their NACE knowledge to military vehicles must first complete the NACE S-CAT training course to obtain their S-CAT Technician certification.

Growth potential

A study by Grandview Research reports that the oil and gas corrosion control industry is expected to grow exponentially between 2015, the start of the study’s forecast period, and 2025. At the end of the forecast period, the industry is expected to be valued at $12.2 billion.

Grandview attributes this significant amount of growth to an increase in transportation and technological advances within the oil and gas industry, specifically in the United States and the Middle East/North Africa region, which together make up more than half of the global oil and gas market.

Although the demand for corrosion control specialists is continuing to grow, the NACE and Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) have responded by increasing safety requirements for corrosion control specialists. This allows the workers to maintain a sense of safety when handling dangerous corrosion protection products.

The anti-corrosion coating market is also expected to increase across all industries, according to a report from Zion Market Research. By 2024, the end of the forecast period, the market will supposedly reach up to $32.6 billion.

The anti-corrosion coating market covers a wide range of the industries that many NACE-certified specialists work in, such as oil and gas, maritime, industrial and automotive. All of these industries are experiencing individual growth, and are expected to require more anti-corrosion coating over time.

Just as NACE International strives to make the certification process simpler for future inspectors, Surehand wants to make the job search easier. Certified candidates can create an online profile on the Surehand website, then sit back and let their future employer come to them with great job opportunities.


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