NDT – A Very Viable Career Choice

The latest figures released by Statistic SA in July 2018, indicated that the current unemployment rate in South Africa is 27,2%, and the percentage of young persons aged 15–24 years who were not in employment, education or training is a staggering 31,6%.

So, in these times of economic uncertainty, finding something that will almost certainly get you a job is obviously worth its weight in gold! Well, a course at the Southern African Institute of Welding (SAIW) could just be that ‘something’ as more than 75% of those who complete an SAIW course – and this includes Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) courses – do find sound and stable employment. There are, however, those who say that with the large Eskom new build projects drawing to a close and the struggling State-owned Enterprises (SOEs) cutting down on  maintenance programmes in an effort to save operating costs, the scope of inspection and test activities are seemingly diminishing.

But Harold Jansen, SAIW Systems and Quality Manager, remains positive. “Promoting NDT might be one of the best strategies to help resolve these low employment figures since the access
conditions are relatively low. For example, a Grade 10 certificate with mathematics and science is required for access to surface testing methods; and the training, qualification and certification
period prior to being employed and earning an acceptable salary, can be as low as 2 months, keeping in mind that the salary shall increase as the competence and marketability of the individual
increase via continuous personnel training, qualification and development,” he says.

He adds that, in addition, NDT is somewhat of a local priority. “NDT has been listed as a scarce /critical skill since 2014 and ‘localisation’ thereof is encouraged via the National Skills Development Plan. NDT remains a prominent item on all qualification levels, being categorised under three of the 12 educational subject matters namely: Engineering, Life and Earth Science and Professionals and Associate Professionals.”

The SAIW NDT department is certainly playing its part to promote NDT as a career by ensuring the highest standards with its initiation of the National NDT Capability (NNDTC) project, a five-year multifaceted campaign, supported by SAIW Certification, the ISO 17024 SANAS accredited personnel certification body and directed by the SAQCC-NDT Scheme Committee, the National NDT Qualification and Certification scheme.

The objective of the NNDTC project is to define, determine and improve the quality of Non-Destructive Testing in South Africa by addressing the following aspects:

1. Define and determine the national NDT Infrastructure
2. Competence of NDT personnel
3. Quality systems and documentation
4. Inspection methodology
5. Inspection validation

Jansen says that doing all that one can to ensure the highest levels of professionalism is apt at this time for budding NDT practitioners. “Even if the demand for competent NDT personnel has slowed slightly in South Africa, the global market continues to grow and there are significant shortages of personnel on the African continent. A competent NDT individual could therefore easily participate in regional industries not linked to the local national demand. “

So there are definitely career opportunities for competent NDT personnel coming out of the SAIW and, looking into the future, considering the national NDT workforce, a third of it is over the age of 41 with only 14,5% consisting of females. Significant growth within this occupation can therefore be anticipated once the economic challenges are resolved and we will be investing in NDT training and development because it is a wise strategy,” Jansen says All being considered, and based on a conservative estimate, an annualdemand of 300 new competent NDT personnel entering the market should be sufficient to service the national need, but should South Africa aim to become a global exporter of NDT expertise then this number can, and should easily increase to a 1000 or more.

With respect to the true value of NDT one should not only consider the cost of implementing it but rather at the savings over the life-time of a plant through, inter alia, the following:
• continuous monitoring of plant components,
• saving due to preventative maintenance,
• prevention of a dramatic failure and possible loss of life,
• remnant life prediction and
• replacement planning.

“Also,” concludes Jansen, “the value of NDT is also the contribution it makes to the NDT technician’s family and community. It is up to all of us to ensure the viability of our own particular specialities in order to help turn around the challenging economic environment that currently exists in South Africa,” Jansen concludes.