Earlier this year, it would have been difficult for Billy Steele and Ross Thomas, two students in the War2In program, to tell you exactly what a non-destructive testing (NDT) technician does. Now, after just a few months of intensive training in NDT methods, the two men have landed positions that will help finance the rest of their schooling in the program.
War2In’s program taught Steele and Ross the basics of NDT testing, which uses a wide array of techniques to evaluate the properties of materials and components without damaging what is being tested. Its uses range from making sure a ski resort chairlift is safe to estimating how much pressure a pipeline can withstand.
Both Steele and Thomas were hired this fall by a global provider of equipment and services for the owners and operators of pipelines.
“I am very, very surprised by how quickly all of this has fallen in to place,” said Thomas, 25. “Prior to May of this year, I had never even heard of NDT, yet now here I am out working with guys who have been doing this longer than I have been alive.”
War2In is a school that was started two years ago by Kenny Greene as way of helping veterans transition from military service to high-paying civilian jobs. War2In is short for “Warrior to Inspector.”
Steele, age 30, says he and Thomas went to Oklahoma to get a few days of on-site training as part of their education. “We had just started on our trip back home, when Kenny got a phone call inquiring about hiring us.”
Greene knew from his experience as an NDT technician that his job was in high demand and there had been a shortage of qualified personnel for those positions for years. “The industry isn’t marketing itself very well,” Greene said. “Usually you find out about it because you know someone else in the field. It’s mostly through word-of-mouth.”
Greene submitted his business plan for War2In to the Northern Arizona Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology in 2014. His application to be part of the business incubator was accepted, and by October 2015, War2In’s first students were attending classes and labs in NACET’s newly opened accelerator building.
“War2In is a great fit with the purpose of NACET,” said Scott Hathcock, NACET president and CEO. “Kenny is taking an ever-growing industry that is hungry for responsible, skilled employees and providing an innovative, highly respected training program that quickly connects his students with well-paying jobs. Now he’s making those connections before they even graduate. His unique structure is turning War2In into a workforce development powerhouse.”
In three semesters – about 2,500 hours – War2In teaches its full-time students the intricacies of numerous testing techniques, including magnetic particle testing, ultrasonic testing, phased-array, liquid penetrant testing and welding inspection. But, unlike many other NDT training schools, War2In also includes as part of its curriculum the more than 1,000 hours of on-the-job training that is required to become certified in these techniques.
Each semester at War2In costs $10,000, and students also have to make living arrangements in Flagstaff. Once students are fully trained and certified, however, annual salaries in excess of $100,000 are not uncommon.
The school currently has eight students. While most are former military, some are not. Typically, those in their first semester attend 10 hours of classes and labs four times a week at NACET. Others are completing field training at sites around the country.
The innovation this year, Greene said, was to accelerate some first semester students and provide them enough skills that they could get paid internships, apprenticeships or entry-level jobs in the sector while they were still receiving their education. Steele and Thomas are the first two students to successfully secure positions in their first semester.
“It has been really fun to get out in the field and put my skills to use,” said Thomas, one of the few non-veterans in the program. “You’re using tools and technology to find things that you cannot see. You could look at a section of pipe and say that it visually looks perfect, but once you put some of our tools on it, you’ll find all sorts of indications that are absolutely critical for engineering assessments. I think it’s pretty cool to be able to do that.”
Steele, a former Coast Guard member and law enforcement officer, says the trust shown by his employer has been very satisfying. “There’s a lot of freedom in this position because you are trusted to do your job,” he said. “You have supervisors, but a lot of it is very hands off. They rely on you to provide accurate information and it gives you a sense of responsibility, of being an important asset to the company.”
In fact, that’s why many former military personnel are a good fit for the industry, Greene said. “When we go out as inspectors, we are self-regulated,” he said. “I think that military personnel are structured and disciplined and that is one of the biggest factors in their success.”
The seasonal nature of NDT work will allow both Steele and Thomas periods of time where they can return to Flagstaff to complete their education at War2In over the next few years. FBN
By Cindy May, FBN
Photo caption: The War2In (Warrior to Inspector) program trains technicians for tasks like making sure a ski resort chairlift is safe, or estimating how much pressure a pipeline can withstand.