NDT technicians have a variety of options when choosing to advance in their careers; they may go back to school to earn a higher degree or to cross-train in another field, pursue additional certifications that will allow them to work in other industries or simply achieve a higher level of certification.
Many technicians, however, will start their NDT careers with a Level I certification. Level Is are the most basic of the three certifications and can put prospective technicians on the path to growing in their career and gaining the experience needed to advance to a higher certification level.
Level I technicians are given the least amount of responsibility out of all NDT certification levels, but they also (for the most part) have the least amount of required training and work experience hours when pursuing their initial certification. Many Level I technicians will start working as a Level I employee due to the lower level of requirements, then can work their way up over time.
Level I workers are expected to stick to the methods that they are trained in, with little to no deviation from the standard procedures. They may be qualified to perform specific calibrations and tests that fall under the inspection method in which they are certified.
Some technicians qualify for a Level I Limited certification instead of the standard Level I certification, often because they have not yet met the requirements needed to become certified as a Level I.
Level I Limited technicians have extra restrictions placed on their work responsibilities. They’re usually only trained on one specific procedure, unlike Level Is which may earn training on multiple procedures that fall within their inspection method. They will also only be able to perform certain types of inspection, typically mandated by their employer, on certain materials.
Because most Level I technicians are beginners within their field, they are required to perform all of their on-the-job duties under the supervision of a superior, usually a Level II or III technician who has gained more work experience.
According to respondents of a 2018 PQNDT survey, Level I workers (around 32%) are employed within the aerospace industry. The petrochemical industry is also very popular, employing around 27% of Level I workers. Other more common industries include construction, laboratory and utility & power, all employing between 10% and 14% of Level I technicians.
In order to earn certification as an NDT Level I inspector, potential workers must first complete both the required number of training hours and at least a minimum number of work experience hours, to be completed within a specified time frame.
Typically, Level I inspectors have to complete fewer training hours and work experience hours than a Level II inspector. For example, inspectors looking to become certified in Magnetic Particle testing, one of the most common inspection types, will have to complete 16 hours of training for a Level I certification, but need twice that for a Level II certification.
However, some of the requirements can be the same for both certifications. This is the case with Acoustic Emission testing, which requires 40 hours of training for both Level I and Level II technicians, provided they have a high school diploma or equivalent.
Level I technicians that have completed at least two years of science or engineering study will only need 32 training hours, while Level II technicians will need 40 hours no matter their level of education. In addition, the work experience hours differ for the two certifications, requiring at least 210 hours for a Level I certification and at least 630 hours for a Level II certification.
Inspectors have a few options to choose from when undergoing their NDT certification training. Training hours can be completed through the training departments within individual companies, which may be the best option if the company is the inspector’s current or future employer.
Prospective inspectors can also train through commercial NDT training companies, some of which offer training programs that are at least partially virtual, making the training period a bit more convenient for those inspectors who don’t live within commuting distance to a training facility.
The method through which an inspector obtains their training may also have an effect on their future careers. Inspectors who finish their training through a college, university or vocational/technical school can further their NDT education and have a lower number of required training hours to complete.
They may also have networking and cross-training opportunities available to them, giving them access to employers and potentially making them more marketable. Cross-training can give inspectors experience in multiple inspection methods and, possibly, experience in NDT research.
Those who train through the military will often go on to serve in their branch as an NDT professional; members of the U.S. Air Force should complete 49 days of training at the tech school in Pensacola, Florida after completing basic training, while Navy sailors will need nine weeks of training at the naval base in Great Lakes, Illinois, then will immediately become certified as a Level II inspector.
The American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT), the world’s largest technical society for NDT professionals, describes work experience as “work activities accomplished in a specific NDT method under the direction of qualified supervision including the performance of the NDT method and related activities but not including time spent in organized training programs.”
Once the inspector has completed both the required training hours and work experience hours needed for their certification, they must pass their certification exams. The exams are usually administered by their employer as they require knowledge of the procedures and materials specific to that company.
Certification exams for all NDT inspectors, regardless of their inspection method or certification level, are made up of three separate tests. For Level I and Level II workers, these three sections consist of a general exam, covering the general principles of their inspection method, a specific exam, covering the procedures and equipment specific to their employer, and a practical exam, observing the individual inspector’s ability to perform their duties.
To become certified as an NDT inspector, prospective workers must score at least a 70 on each individual exam, with an average score of 80 across all three exams. They must also pass a visual exam, which looks at the individual’s near visual acuity and color vision.
The majority of Level I workers – 90% – reported being employed full time in 2018, and 81% of full-time employees reported receiving hourly pay rather than given an annual salary. In a 2018 survey, the average full-time wage was $23.11 per hour (for hourly workers) or $72,684 per year (for salaried workers).
Full-time workers also often receive benefits from their employers. More than 90% of employees receive a 401(k) savings plan, dental and medical insurance and paid vacation time. The majority of Level I technicians also often have disability and life insurance and educational assistance.
Although most Level I technicians work full-time, around 10% are contractors that take on shorter-term temporary positions, often with multiple different employers. Contract Level Is make an average of $26.01 an hour, although they are not eligible for full-time benefits. They typically work around 9 months out of the year and spend an average of 13 weeks on each assignment.
Because a Level I certification is the most basic of the three NDT certification levels, Level I technicians can easily advance to a Level II or III as they gain more experience and knowledge within their field. Higher certification levels come with more responsibility on the job, in addition to the ability to work without supervision (although higher-level workers may be required to supervise Level I employees at their company).
Level II and III inspectors also make a higher average salary than Level I inspectors. Level II inspectors make an average annual salary of $78,200, although their salaries may range up to $84,300. Level III inspectors have an average salary of $132,424.
Once an inspector earns a Level III certification, they can have a wide range of job opportunities available to them. Level III inspectors may train and supervise Level I or II workers. They may also choose to own their own laboratories, work as NDT consultants or take on a management, supervisory or administrative position.
NDT inspectors may also choose to return to school, even after they’ve achieved their certification. Courses offered through a college or university can teach inspectors about updates in NDT and related technologies. Formal education can also give inspectors access to professors and other NDT professionals who can provide them with a professional network and the opportunities that they need to advance their careers.
Overall, the NDT field is quickly growing; the industry is expected to be valued at $24 billion by 2024. As companies become aware of their environmental impact, many may turn to nondestructive testing to reduce the amount of waste created by inspections. NDT inspectors can also ensure that aging structures and manufacturing methods are maintaining their quality over time.
Inspectors who have earned their Level I certification can advertise their work experience to a variety of employers with little effort through Surehand. Job-seekers only need to create an online profile with their resume and work experiences, then let their future employer find them.
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