Just like general manufacturing jobs across the nation, nondestructive testing (NDT) positions across the globe are not being filled at the rate they need to be. According to market research firm Frost & Sullivan, a lack of qualified technicians is driving the growth of the NDT training market at consistent rates.
“Due to aging infrastructure and vastly publicized industrial disasters and catastrophes, as well as growing investment in new infrastructure projects, demand for new technicians to cater to the needs of the NDT industry has increased incrementally,” the firm said. “However, this demand is not being met as there is an evident shortage of technicians.”
According to Frost & Sullivan, the global NDT training services market generated $237.6 million in revenue in 2013, and those returns are expected to grow to $293.5 million by 2018.
North America and Europe are the biggest markets for NDT training services, accounting for a combined 62% of the global market in 2013. In North America, the shale oil and gas industry has created a great demand, which is causing a shortage of technicians. The abrupt swell in new infrastructure to sustain oil and gas production has considerably augmented demand for newer technicians in the industry. As such, the NDT training industry is working to keep up, and is bringing in students via three major streams: individual requests; corporate requests; and end-user requests. Individuals make up 46.7% of this influx, Frost & Sullivan says, because of the partiality of third-party certification systems in most regions (ISO 9712-compliant certification schemes over company-based SNT-TC-1A). Therefore, NDT training service companies do not spend on technician training.
Although ultrasonic testing is advancing in popularity globally, the chief request for NDT training service providers from a technology or method viewpoint is for magnetic particle testing and penetrant testing. Mike Allgaier, director of training and certification at Mistras Group (Princeton Junction, NJ), adds radiographic testing to that list. Conversely, he says, direct contact magnetic particle inspection is being phased out, as it can damage components.
In a recent interview with NDT magazine, Allgaier discussed NDT methods on the rise, the best way existing NDT techs can acquire training, and what the basics of an introductory NDT training course entail.
NDT: What are the most up-and-coming NDT methods?
Mike Allgaier:Computed radiography; phased array ultrasonics; guide wave ultrasonics; digital visual imaging; and infrared/thermal testing.
NDT: What is the best way for an existing technician to get NDT training?
MA:The best way is for the tech to show some initiative. Invest some of your own time, sweat and money. Show you care about NDT. Get some basic training to allow being hired. If (focusing on) RT then radiation safety; If UT then thickness; if surface inspection then MT/PT/VT. After getting hired, then have your employer provide additional NDT training. Or, take online training on your own to be coupled with hands on training. A four-month program is an intense and quick way to begin to get into the field and start earning some money. A long-term career can best be prepared for with two- or four-year degree in NDT Technology.
If the technician shows the initiative to learn the theory online, then the employer is more likely to invest the time to provide experience and additional training over time.
NDT: How is NDT training changing with the times?
MA:Online or web-based training is growing all the time. It has proven to be much more flexible for field technicians to get an education without having to be in one locale and on one schedule for at least 15 weeks for a typical college semester. Its disadvantage is its lack of hands-on skill training. Watching videos is nice to see how testing is done, but it must be shown in person and one must be helped to improve for the first few times.
Web-based training should be followed with structured skill training where competencies are learned via a master/apprentice approach, but done in a formal, structured and scheduled format.
NDT: Demand for NDT technicians is growing. Why is this field important?
MA:It takes a field technician to make sure the engineers' requirements are met in the field or factory. It takes a technician to go into the field to gather information for the engineer to decide what to do with components in service. The technician is the middle person between the owner of the hardware and engineer who designs or does failure analysis. This is a very important position to assure the quality of the product in use.
NDT: What is the best way for someone who would like to become well-versed in NDT to get that education?
MA:Short, intense training, combined with opportunities to gain experience the first few months or year is ideal. A scheduled approach would look like the conventional co-op education of the past: Learn a little and practice a little. Those who attain intense long-term education will not seek the rough field conditions to gain experience. Those that will seek the rough field conditions first are prone to not possess high academic credentials. The perfect combination is the intermediate position. Training and experience alternating to higher and higher levels until the limit of the candidate's capabilities are reached.
NDT: What training options are available?
MA:Some will still like the traditional formal education route but if not an engineering or science degree the reward won’t be enough to justify the cost. Some will want minimal education and hands on maximized but they will not advance in the long run without adequate math, science, English and computer skills and advanced NDT knowledge/skills. The new way should be the blended approach with each candidate maximizing his or her full potential over time.
NDT: How should companies treat advanced NDT training of existing technicians?
MA:Advance NDT should be additional endorsements of basic NDT certifications. A building block approach should be taken. A planned career path approach can maximize the speed within which to qualify a technician. For example: Four basic NDT methods for 280 hours each (give or take four months) then focus on the intermediate NDT method, such as ultrasonic or radiographic testing for the next 840 hours, each intensely studied, one at a time. After one-to-two years in the field as a Level II in a given method, then one should take advanced NDT training, such as computed radiography, phased array, ultrasonic, guided wave, etc.
NDT: Do certain types of NDT present different training challenges than other types?
MA:All NDT methods need the skill-transfer aspect taught to specific criteria. A minimum percent of all classes should be specified as hands-on or practical skills training. Theory and principles, plus proficiency demonstrations are needed for all NDT techniques.