Onboarding technicians with existing certifications

This column reflects some of the frustrations surrounding the certification of new employees with existing NDT certifications under the employer-based certification scheme known as Recommended Practice SNT-TC-1A.

Previous articles have described how the process operates. Essentially, the Recommended Practice differs from a standard inasmuch as the process is recommended, ie the recommendations ‘should’ be followed as opposed to the requirements ‘shall’ be followed. The employer takes responsibility for certifying the technicians to a specific level in a specific NDT method, using a centrally certified Level III in the method to ensure that the candidate has met the conditions required in the employer’s written practice.

The process is relatively straightforward for employees who are hired as trainees, with a structured process that guides the trainee through training, access to working conditions that provide experience in the application of the NDT method and classroom training, followed by written and practical examinations. The employer’s written practice provides detailed processes for conducting training, access to experience under a certified technician in the specific method, a process for producing documentation of the experience and written general and specific examinations and a practical examination where the candidate must detect and measure damage in samples typical of those to be detected using the NDT method.

So, while the Recommended Practice SNT-TC-1A is somewhat flexible, depending on the specific damage to be detected in the processes being examined by the candidate, the written practice itself has very specific requirements. In addition, the number of hours required for experience, the introduction of limited certifications, the number of questions on a given test and the number of practical samples to be examined can vary from one employer’s written practice to another.
However, the complications arise when a technician trained and certified by company A is hired to work for company B in a similar workspace. In a perfect world, Company A would provide documentation of the employee’s experience and training and Company B would assure itself of the technician’s competence by requiring their new employee to take a written general examination to evaluate their knowledge of the theory of the NDT method, a specific examination to evaluate their familiarity with the application and procedure and a practical examination to provide evidence of technical application of the NDT method in such a way as to provide evidence of their capability to detect the requisite level of damage.

No two companies seem to document experience in the same manner. The documentation is usually in the form of a weekly or monthly format showing hours spent as part of a two-person crew conducting UT, for example. There is nothing to designate whether the assistant or ‘trainer’ actually did any training or allowed the trainee to do any inspection while being observed.

The source of the present frustration is in obtaining records from a newly hired technician’s previous company. This can vary from companies who are extremely helpful and prompt in providing information, to companies who either delay sending information or do not sent it all. The inconsistencies in the transmission of technician certification information, and the flexibility of the employer-based certification, has led to oil & gas companies setting up their own individual performance demonstration programmes. Thus we have, in the petrochemical industry alone, a multiple number of oil & gas companies, each with their own performance demonstration programme. Technicians are required to pass each of these multiple performance tests, which has become quite an onerous project.

ASNT has recently inaugurated a programme that has been accepted by the major oil companies and which conducts one integrated performance demonstration programme available in sites across the USA. It is called the ASNT Industry Sector Qualification (ISQ) for Oil & Gas. The purpose of the ISQ is to provide the oil & gas industry with NDT personnel who have demonstrated competency in practical application of a specific technique through hands-on performance demonstration qualification examinations.

ASNT states that the ISQ will standardise performance demonstration initiative testing of NDT technicians, alleviate the burden on owners/operators to provide their own programme, provide a programme for owner/operators that do not have their own programme and establish an industry-recognised programme for the oil & gas sector, while minimising the impact of cost and redundant testing.

ASNT is initially developing four UT qualifications that can be used as standalone qualifications or incorporated into an employer-based programme. Additional technique exams will be added to meet industry needs as defined by participating oil & gas owners/operators. The first technique to roll out will be UT thickness, which emphasises the candidate’s ability to distinguish wall loss from laminations and accurately measure remaining wall thickness, potentially saving in repairs or loss of production. Shear wave, phased array and TOFD for ASME weld quality will follow.

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