Inspectors that become certified in Nondestructive Testing (NDT) have a variety of career paths they can choose from, but the certification most directly prepares them for a job as an inspector. NDT inspectors work in industries such as oil & gas, energy, aerospace, automotive and defense. They are trained to inspect manufactured materials, in-service structures and assembly parts to make sure they are working correctly and meet all safety standards without ever taking the materials apart.
Because NDT is present in so many industries, it has become one of the fastest-growing jobs and is expected to become a $21.2 billion industry by 2024.
NDT inspectors differ from other inspectors in the sense that their job is to examine materials and products for a variety of industries without breaking the materials down or damaging them in any way through specific processes. This process allows the materials to maintain their original function after inspection.
Unlike NDT, other forms of inspection take samples of materials from a larger group and will usually take that sample apart in order to inspect it fully. After being inspected, the products are no longer able to be used in the same way.
Because companies that use NDT inspection don’t have to sacrifice any of their materials to undergo an inspection, they will often end up saving money. This is one of the many reasons that NDT inspection is such a quickly growing industry.
There are many different industries that use NDT for their inspections, most of which are dealing with safety standards. Their materials will need to meet these standards in order to keep consumers safe (such as in the automotive industry) or to keep those handling the materials safe (such as in oil and gas).
NDT inspectors can choose from 14 different inspection methods to specialize in when they are starting their training. The type of method refers to the tools that inspectors use to examine their materials.
Six of those 14 methods are the most commonly used: Magnetic Particle Testing (MT), Liquid Penetrant Testing (PT), Radiographic Testing (RT), Ultrasonic Testing (UT), Electromagnetic Testing (ET) and Visual Testing (VT).
There is no required level of education needed to begin a career in NDT; inspectors can get started with only a high school diploma or an equivalent. However, those entering the field with an education beyond a high school diploma have the opportunity to earn higher average salaries with their first job and obtain more in-depth NDT training.
Students who choose to earn their NDT certification through a two- or four-year school also have the chance to cross-train in other disciplines, giving them more comprehensive knowledge of the NDT field and adding skills that make them more attractive to potential employers.
Another benefit of attending school for NDT is the opportunity to network with industry professionals, particularly with faculty and former students. NDT professors can work directly with their students to make sure they are learning what they should and can help launch their students’ careers.
NDT professors can also serve as advisors for students who are interested in conducting research within the NDE field. Although a graduate- or doctorate-level degree is not necessary for an NDT career, some students may choose to pursue higher education to reach a more complex job position, like a research specialist or engineer.
NDT education isn’t limited to those who choose to continue going to school; all NDT inspectors at every level must complete a certain number of training hours to become certified. If they don’t want to attend school to start their training, they may decide to sign up for online classes or enroll in a training facility.
There are specialized NDT training facilities located across the United States and overseas. Some organizations, such as the American Institute of Nondestructive Testing, offer courses that can be taken online with a short in-person training session at their facility in Baxter, MN.
Average salaries for an NDT inspector depend on the certification level (Levels I, II and III) and the industry in which the inspector is employed. New graduates can look forward to a starting salary of around $18 an hour, but the average annual salary for all NDT Level I inspectors ranges from $42,700 to $55,500.
Salaries increase along with the certification level. The base salaries for Level II inspectors range from $69,800 to $84,000, with an average salary of $77,900. As Level III inspectors take on more responsibility, they are given a salary within the range of $120,000 to $150,000, with an average salary of $132,237.
Four-year degrees increase the starting salary a little bit more. Students who have earned their bachelor’s degrees often earn a salary between $70,000 and $90,000 upon graduation.
Certain qualified applicants, such as U.S. veterans or those who are economically disadvantaged, can take advantage of the American Aerospace Technical Academy (AATA), a nonprofit which provides twelve weeks of free, accessible NDT training. For those who can’t afford to seek a four-year degree (or who are otherwise not interested), the AATA program is a viable alternative.
In order to begin a career in NDT, potential inspectors must meet three qualifications: complete the required number of training hours, pass the written and practical exams for their intended certification level and gain enough experience to carry out the duties expected of their position.
Each inspection method has a certain number of required training hours; inspectors will have to complete anywhere from 4 to 80 hours of training. The total number of training hours depends on which inspection method they want to become certified in, which inspection level they want to achieve and how much education they have before starting their career.
Potential inspectors can complete their training hours through colleges, vocational or technical schools, the military or training companies that specialize in NDT training, either online or in person.
The three inspection levels each have to complete three exams before beginning their careers. Levels I and II both have two written exams, known as “general” and “specific” exams due to their content, and a practical exam. These exams may be created by certified Level III inspectors.
Level IIIs must complete three exams as well, which are labeled as “basic,” “method” and “specific.” Inspectors at all levels should score a minimum of 70 on each individual test, with a minimum composite score of 80.
Apart from the exams required for their certification, inspectors must also pass a visual exam. This consists of both a near visual acuity test and a color vision test.
Potential inspectors are also given a minimum number of required work experience hours to be completed within a particular time frame. Both the number of hours and the time frame is dependent on the inspection method and qualification level that the inspector is working towards.
For example, the work experience requirements for a magnetic particle inspector starts at 130 hours for Level I, to be completed between two weeks and three months. That number rises to 530 hours when the inspector wants to achieve a Level II status, which should be completed between six weeks and nine months.
Level III inspectors must complete their work experience according to the education that they received before starting. If a Level III inspector has a four-year degree, they only need a minimum of one year of relevant experience comparable to a Level II; if they have a two-year degree, they need at least two years of experience, and if they only have a high school diploma, they will need at least four years of experience.
Currently, there is a rising pressure on manufacturers to lower the number of external defects and irregularities in their products, leading to a projected 6% increase of demand in the surface inspection NDT market over the next five years.
Anyone interested in starting a career in NDT can look forward to having job security and an open field due to the current shortage of inspectors, but they can also enjoy plenty of opportunities for growth.
Inspectors looking to advance in their career should also stay on top of open job opportunities, even when they are already employed. Surehand can help NDT professionals keep their options open without any additional work. Simply create your free Surehand profile and let your next employer come to you.