Most people who become welders do not think about their career in the long term. They become welders and then let Fate take them wherever it will. For the right welder however, becoming a certified welding inspector might be the next step. If you are wondering about where you should go from here in your welding career, you might want to consider becoming a certified welding inspector. Perhaps you want to have more responsibility and more money. Maybe you want to leave behind all the daily prepping, cleaning, and welding to even be able to start working on fabrications. You might be right for the job if that's you.
The average salary of a welder who works in structural and architectural metals manufacturing (as of May 2009) was $33,330. This is according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That particular segment of manufacturing employs some 46,350 welders, cutters, brazers, and solderers. Looking closely at the segment that has inspection as a key component, you can see that the average yearly income jumps dramatically. Inspectors make $47,330 on average. This is because manufacturers see welding inspection as a much needed skill, and they are willing to pay more to have it.
There are jobs for welding inspectors as well. The locations span throughout the country, and you can find them listed on the American Welding Society job board, CareerBuilder.com and other sites. While there are jobs and the money is good, not every welder is right for the job of certified welding inspector (CWI). The opportunities for CWIs are expected to continue to grow, so it is important to decide whether it's something you want to pursue.
Many schools do not do a CWI course because it is very intense. One school that does the course is Knight School of Welding in Louisville, Kentucky. The course is 80 hours long and covers two weeks, but instructors sometimes stretch it out a couple of days longer to get everything done.
So what do you need to know? A bit of everything. Would-be inspectors have to decide which codes they are interested in and then what exactly is stated in that code and how to find sections quickly in order to verify quality welds or whether reworking is needed. Inspectors have to know about welding processes, how different materials react during welding, terminology, and symbols as well as nondestructive testing and any visual clues that will tell them whether a weld is acceptable.
Welding experience is extremely helpful. Before taking the CWI exam, it is stressed that you have welding experience. Someone who has a high school diploma and a year's worth of technical school or engineering coursework need to have four years work experience at a minimum. 9 years is required for those who didn't graduate high school or get a GED but did finish through eighth grade. 12 years is required for those who don't have a high school diploma or GED and stopped going to school before eighth grade.
Written verification is required to document employment when an application is submitted to take the CWI exam. If an applicate can't provide that proof, then they have to provide a detailed affidavit that will confirm work experience. A varied work experience can actually be helpful, because you are exposed to and learn multiple codes.
A CWI has to be able to communicate effectively both verbally and in writing. They also have to be able to be respectful, because they may have to tell welders things they don't want to hear and they have to be able to keep themselves cool under pressure. They need to be independent and able to tell the truth always, whether they are speaking to another inspector, a welder, or the company president. Telling different shades of the story can be risky, so no matter what, they have to be able to be honest. They must also abide by the code of ethics not to take bribes or do anything else that could put people at risk. They also have to pass a vision test.
To pass the test, a minimum score of 72 is needed in all three test sections. Part A is two hours long and has 150 questions and is a closed book test on fundamentals. Part B is also two hours long and is a 46 question hands on test requiring use of a sample code book and visual inspection tools. Part C is two hours long and is an open book test with 40-60 questions that require finding the right code in the right code book. If any part of the test is failed, it cannot be taken again for one year and 40 hours of additional professional training.