NDE Careers: The Way Forward

The official NDT Resource Center claims that graduates from NDE programs are looking at a 100% job placement rate. Demand for technicians is high and the field is continuously growing. In addition, NDE jobs come with a great amount of responsibility and often come with high salaries, especially for well-educated technicians.

However, there is currently a shortage of technicians and the industry is in need of more qualified workers. Anyone interested in the NDE field can get their career started easily through a physical school or online.

Nondestructive Testing vs. Nondestructive Evaluation

Nondestructive Testing and Nondestructive Evaluation (NDT and NDE, respectively) are often used interchangeably, but each term refers to a different aspect of the same field.

Nondestructive Testing is the type of inspection used by many industries to make sure that materials and systems are performing in the way that they should without destroying or altering those structures. Businesses that use NDT for their inspections can make sure their products are all up to standard while also saving money.

NDE, on the other hand, specifically refers to tests that are a bit more qualitative. While NDE tests are very similar to NDT tests, the NDE tests are more often used to take exact measurements of any flaws in the material. NDE can also examine shape, size, hardness, malleability and other characteristics.

NDE tests can be used for quantitative measurements as well—X-rays can be used to determine the crystalline structure of a material—but this generally defines the major differences between the two disciplines.

Educational Benefits of NDE Careers

In addition to job security, a solid salary and short training periods, the NDE field offers potential technicians a variety of possible career paths in many different industries.

Some of the biggest industries for NDE technicians include aerospace, automotive, oil and gas, and petrochemical, although there are many other options. These industries manufacture and handle products that need to meet high safety standards; NDE helps them to meet those standards in a cost-efficient manner.

Certain schools that offer NDT programs will also give students the opportunity to cross-train in multiple inspection methods—particularly ultrasonics (UT), radiography (RT), visual testing (VT), eddy current (ET), magnetic particle (MT) and liquid penetrant (PT) testing. This allows the students to take on more responsibility with their careers as technicians and makes them more attractive to potential employers.

Specializing in one method can provide plenty of growth as well. Technicians that choose this path can use their expertise to advance toward a senior status or a consultant position, especially as they gain more experience in their job.

NDE technicians aren’t limited to working only in a specific location, either. NDE is used by companies and organizations all over the world and an NDE career can provide opportunities for technicians to travel to a variety of different countries on nearly every continent.

Gaining Experience

The NDE field is open and accessible for anyone looking to start a career; potential NDT technicians do not need to have a specific education or type of training before they begin their NDE training.

Each of the three certification levels for NDE technicians has different requirements, although the requirements for Levels I and II are nearly identical (the difference between the two is usually the number of training and experience hours needed). All three levels need a certain amount of training depending on the desired industry, passing scores on the entrance exams and a vision test and at least a high school diploma or equivalent.

Before starting training, the technicians-to-be will have to determine which examination method they’d like to study. Visual examinations have the lowest number of required training hours, while electromagnetic, radiography and ultrasonic have the most. Technicians with more education prior to starting training usually have a lower number of required training hours.

Future NDE technicians have a few options for their training; some of the training can be through an online school or program, but some will also have to take place at a specific school or facility to give them more hands-on experience. For example, the American Institute of Nondestructive Testing provides some online training but requires students to finish their training at their facility in Baxter, MN.

After completing the required training hours, technicians must then take a series of exams and score at least a 70 on each individual exam and at least an 80 composite score. Levels I and II will need to complete two written exams, one with general NDE information and one that is specified to their anticipated inspection method, as well as a practical exam.

An NDE Level III technician will also take two written exams and, if they’re in the ACCP program, the written exams will both cover information from one or more inspection methods to make sure that technicians have a broad range of knowledge. In addition, Level IIIs are responsible for creating exams and procedures for Levels I and II.

Getting an Education in NDE

When looking to start a career in NDE, potential technicians have a number of options to begin their education. Although simply having a high school diploma or equivalent is sufficient to begin NDE training, some technicians may choose to go to school for engineering or science to begin their NDE career with fewer required training hours and a higher average salary.

NDE technicians can attend any school of their choosing and major in either engineering or science to gain their general education, but some schools in the United States also offer NDE training programs to students, often for a specific inspection method. Schools like Virginia Tech, Michigan State and West Virginia University are all options for a four-year education that includes NDE training.

In addition to having a higher salary and a shorter training period, technicians that choose to attend four-year colleges before starting their careers gain a more in-depth NDE education. They are more appealing to potential employers and have a better base knowledge if they decide to pursue a graduate or doctoral degree later on.

Typically, four-year schools are recommended for students who already have a specific career path or NDE specialization in mind. Students can also gain comprehensive experience in related areas, such as design and research, that enhance their skills on the job and open up more job opportunities. Some also focus their PhDs in NDE, typically in Materials Sciences, but also Mechanical, Chemical, Civil, Electrical, and Computer Science.

Although most training programs focus on potential technicians, NDE classes don’t have to be limited to those starting out in their careers. Experienced technicians may choose to continue taking classes to stay up-to-date on inspection methods and new technology.

Career Management for NDE

Once a technician becomes certified in NDE, they can continue working at the same level as long as they maintain their certification; in order to re-certify, the technician must have continued their work at that level for a certain period of time, usually at least 36 months.

Some NDE levels and methods have other recertification requirements, such as completing a certain amount of training hours or earning a number of “points” through NDE-related activities.

Technicians can also choose to advance to higher NDE levels and take on more responsibility. If the technician has not received any training through their education and wants to move to a higher level from a Level I or Level II, they will be required to work as a Level II technician before advancing to a Level III.

But technicians don’t necessarily have to go back to school to gain more employment opportunities. The American Institute of Nondestructive Testing offers multiple courses that prepare students to progress to a higher NDE level or learn more about a new inspection method.

How to Advance Your NDE Career

Technicians who started their career with only a high school diploma or two years of NDE-related coursework can return to school and gain a four-year education, which comes with an average higher salary and, often, more job opportunities.

If a technician advances their education to Level III and some additional certifications, they may gain enough NDE expertise to become a researcher, developing new technology and methods to be used throughout the NDE field. Technicians that have additional qualifications can also progress to a career as an independent contractor, business owner or government employee.

One example of an advanced NDE career is accessed through the NDE Group at the College of William and Mary. Students can earn a graduate-level degree and conduct research with advisors and former students, going on to work for institutions such as the Center for Nondestructive Evaluation at Iowa State University.

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