With the economic recovery that has taken place in the U.S. following the “Great Recession” that began in 2008, employment and compensation levels in the nondestructive testing (NDT) and quality inspection industries have also shown resilience. In fact, with the exception of a downturn during the mid-point of the recession, NDT salaries have risen steadily over the past decade.
My company, Personnel for Quality and Nondestructive Testing Inc. (PQNDT), conducts an annual compensation survey of the NDT and quality inspection industries in the U.S. We ask a series of questions that have evolved over the years, but with certain core inquiries that give us a snapshot of industry statistics that can be compared year to year. One that annually draws considerable attention is overall compensation.
Looking back over the last ten years of our survey data, we discovered the average full-time NDT and quality professional earned just over $63,000 in 2003. By 2014 that average compensation level had risen to over $106,000. The notable exception was 2010, in the heart of the Great Recession, when average full-time compensation dipped to $55,245 before bouncing back up the following year.
We also track compensation levels by certification achieved. It will come as no surprise that NDT and quality inspectors with higher levels of certification earn more money. But the difference may be more pronounced than expected, and the gap is growing with time.
For example, in 2004 the difference in annual compensation between technicians with Level I, Level II and Level III certifications was approximately $20,000 per year, per certification. In other words, a step up in certification was worth about $20,000 more in compensation per year. But in 2014 that gap had grown to a $32,000 “bump up” between Level I and Level II, with an additional $15,000 in annual pay upon reaching Level III. It is clear that being a Level II technician has paid off handsomely over the last ten years, and the demand for Level II personnel remains the strongest in the NDT industry.
Certified Welding Inspectors (CWI) also saw their paychecks growing steadily over the past ten years, at a rate slightly below that of Level III NDT professionals. But the big money is being made for the API (American Petroleum Institute) inspectors, whose average annual compensation has more than doubled in the past ten years, now standing at more than $132,000 per year.
Other data from our surveys reveals some interesting profiles of the NDT industry.
It’s a man’s world. Despite recent inroads NDT profession remains an overwhelmingly male domain, with men consistently making up well over 90% of the workforce.
We’re getting older. The average age of an NDT professional has been advancing, with only a slight downward dip during the middle of the recent recession.
We’re becoming more experienced. As the industry ages the number of years of experience is growing as well. The average respondent to the PQNDT surveys now has 20 years of work experience behind them. This may indicate that not enough younger technicians are entering the NDT workforce, which could lead to a shortage of qualified personnel as older workers reach retirement age.
The overall picture painted by these survey statistics is of an industry that is rapidly maturing, yet still has the resilience to weather a serious economic storm and emerge even stronger than before. The challenge now is to fill in the gaps that will soon be showing up as more and more NDT professionals reach retirement age. The prospect of steadily growing income and reliable employment may be enough to lure new talent.