Experienced NDT technicians have a few different options when they are looking to advance in their careers. They may decide to further their education or expand their knowledge of inspection techniques. Those with a few years of experience under their belt may choose to pursue a higher certification level, in particular a Level III certification.
NDT inspectors can earn certification as a Level I, II or III technician. Out of the three, Level IIIs are given the most responsibility and are required to have the most education (although not necessarily formal education) and experience. However, with that comes a higher salary and, often, more job opportunities.
Level III technicians are given the highest number of responsibilities and are expected to have a broad knowledge of the NDT field, including multiple inspection methods. They are able to train and supervise both Level I and Level II technicians, and can also conduct NDT certification exams.
Level III technicians also have access to a variety of job possibilities. Some Level IIIs choose to become NDT consultants, while others may work in administration, supervision or management positions. Some Level III technicians are owners of testing laboratories.
Once a technician is officially certified as a Level III, they have the authority to become a supervisor or instructor for technicians at lower certification levels. They may also serve as proctor for certification exams or take responsibility for the faculty and staff of testing facilities.
In preparing for a Level III certification exam, technicians are required to gain an understanding of multiple inspection methods and every aspect of those methods. This qualifies Level III technicians to establish and review procedures, designate the inspection methods and techniques to be used and interpret any codes, standards or specifications.
Level III technicians work in a wide variety of industries within the NDT field. According to a 2018 study, nearly half (48%) of certified Level IIIs polled worked in the aerospace industry, with 16% working in petrochemical. Other popular industries include utility & power and steel & foundry.
Level III technicians are not required to have achieved any level of education after a high school diploma or equivalent, but their level of education directly affects the amount of training needed to receive an official certification. Because of the added job responsibilities, the criteria to become a Level III is more advanced than for a Level I or II.
Level III technicians do not have to have a college degree, but if the technician’s highest form of education is a high school diploma, they must have at least four years of on-the-job experience comparable to that of a Level II technician. This experience also must be in the particular NDT method or methods that they are looking to specialize in.
Having achieved some form of higher education will allow the technician to qualify for a Level III position without as much work experience. Those who have received at least two years of study in either engineering or science from a college or technical school only need to have two years of experience, while those who have received a bachelor’s degree only need one year.
Higher education is particularly important for Level III technicians that want to advance in their careers. Many schools across the country offer courses and degree programs that are specifically tailored to careers in the NDT field, providing students with education and training that is essential to the field, as well as cross-training opportunities, networking connections and possibly job placement assistance.
Some NDT technicians may choose to pursue their education through a designated training school, like the American Institute of Nondestructive Testing, which offers both in-person and online training programs in the most common NDT inspection methods. Many technical schools and community colleges also offer NDT certification programs.
Still others may earn a degree from a traditional four-year institution. Four-year colleges may be a preferable option to technicians who wish to pursue graduate studies or want to specialize in a specific industry (some schools offer NDT educational programs within certain departments, such as aerospace or environmental engineering).
Some of the most prominent examples of these schools include Ridgewater College and Spartan College of Aeronautics & Technology, which are industry-leading institutions for seeking a nondestructive testing degree.
Technicians can essentially have their choice of institution when pursuing higher education; any level of education earned after high school should be in science or engineering in order to reduce the total required years of work experience.
However, some colleges and universities such as Iowa State, Virginia Tech and the University of Illinois offer NDT-specific courses and programs, as well as opportunities for work experience and research outside of the classroom.
In general, NDT technicians earn average salaries above the median household income for the United States; in 2018, Level I technicians earned an average of $72.684, while Levels II and III earned at or even above $100,000.
Salaries for all NDT technicians are continuing to grow as well. Between 2006 and 2018, the average salary for every NDT industry, including aerospace, defense and shipbuilding, increased by at least 30%. The fastest-growing industries in that period were construction, petrochemical and laboratory.
Due to their extensive training and work experience, Level III technicians have the highest salaries out of all NDT technicians by far. The average salary for Level IIIs across all industries was reported to be $126,821 for full-time employees. Average salaries for Level III technicians have been in the six-figure range since 2011.
In addition to higher salaries, the majority of Level III technicians who are employed full-time have access to benefits. More than 90% of employees have 401(k) savings plans, dental, life and medical insurance and paid vacation time. 75% or more also have educational assistance and disability insurance.
16% of Level III technicians receive hourly wages rather than an annual salary. In 2018, The average hourly rate for independent contractors was $73.89, working an average of nine months out of the year and spending around 25 weeks on each assignment.
The NDT field as a whole is growing quickly and the demand for qualified technicians will increase as a result. Level III technicians may have a leg up on the competition due to their range of knowledge and ample prior experience.
According to a 2018 study, the NDT field has increased average compensation 10% since 2015 and reduced the rate of unemployment to around 3.2%—which is lower than the national average by .5%. The majority of employees (87%) were employed full-time, with 43% of full-time technicians receiving an annual salary.
Qualified NDT technicians are very much in-demand; the Contract labor segment saw an increase in employment in 2018 due to a low amount of available technicians. NDT is used in a wide variety of industries and training programs are not turning out enough qualified workers to fulfill the needs of the industries. The job placement rate for many NDT programs is 100%.
The employment of Level III technicians has grown as well. In 2018, the number of Level IIIs was reportedly up by around 3%, mostly due to a demand for qualified technicians and retiring employees. Three industries in particular—defense, petrochemical and steel & foundry—reported an increase in the number of employed full-time Level III technicians.
NDT Level III technicians have multiple opportunities for growth within their individual career paths as well. Although there is no higher level of certification, Level IIIs may choose to further their education to learn more about new technologies and stay above the competition. Many NDT courses are open to all technicians, regardless of if they are pursuing a degree or not.
Pursuing higher education can open up a variety of career paths for NDT technicians, even for those who have already earned their certification. Higher-level degree programs are often more focused and more in-depth, allowing students to obtain career opportunities such as quality assurance, management, design, research and educational positions.
Going back to school after earning a certification may especially help those technicians who are looking to enter into a research-based NDT position. Four-year degree programs are a jumping-off point for graduate or doctorate-level degrees, and Level III technicians can apply what they’ve learned through the certification process or their work experience to research opportunities provided by their educational institutions.
Level III technicians can also take additional NDT exams that are specific to a certain inspection method. All Level III technicians are required to take the NDT Basic exam to obtain their certification, but the American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT) offers 11 different exams in many of the inspection methods.
Taking additional method examinations can give technicians more experience and prepare them to work in a variety of NDT industries. The ASNT also offers refresher courses for Level III technicians who want to brush up and expand on their knowledge of various industry aspects, especially for those preparing for recertification exams.
Surehand wants to help qualified technicians to continue advancing in their career by taking advantage of new job opportunities, even after they’ve obtained the highest certification level. Technicians can create an online profile listing their work experience and accreditation, then allow potential employers to come to them with new and exciting opportunities.
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