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Brand Story – Linn-Benton Community College’s NDT program gets you on your way.

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In a world of chatbots and remote work, it’s easy to think that hands-on jobs don’t exist — or, if they do, that they entail low-paying manual labor. 

But think again. The NDT program at Linn-Benton Community College prepares graduates for a secure career at better-than-average wages in a field that’s growing by leaps and bounds.

So, what exactly is NDT? The acronym stands for nondestructive testing, which means technicians perform visual, mechanical and technical evaluations to ensure that parts and materials are structurally sound and not prone to failure — without destroying them in the process. These examinations are critical for preventing accidents and saving lives.

NDT methods are used in a wide array of industries including manufacturing, aerospace, energy, transportation, health care and engineering. “Inspectors deal with research and development; they look at nuclear components, medical prosthetics, oil and gas rig materials, test anything that’s welded, do strength evaluations,” said Scott Ballard, the NDT program’s department chair and faculty member at LBCC.

A little history

The NDT program at Linn-Benton is a natural fit for the Albany area. While the U.S. government was working on the Manhattan Project in the 1940s, the Department of Defense on the West Coast hoped to tap nuclear energy to power aircraft carriers and submarines. It set its sights on Albany, the rare metals capital of the United States, if not the world. 

The area already had a small research facility, Oregon State University, zirconium sand in the beaches nearby and cheap hydroelectricity, which attracted Boeing, Alcoa and other big players. This led to Albany becoming the center for processing of metals like titanium, zirconium and niobium, something which hadn’t been done on a mass scale before.

Fast forward to seven years ago when industry partners that rely on those metals ponied up funding and worked with the college and community to establish the NDT program as one of the premier, state-of-the-art training facilities in the nation.  

Today, this translates to a cutting-edge curriculum where students quickly advance from Level 1 trainee to highly qualified, well-paid technician due to the program’s extensive hands-on instruction. 

Classroom, real-world education blend

Graduates of the Linn-Benton NDT program emerge job-ready with a two-year associate of applied science degree. The program is accommodating; working parents and others who are going to school while still holding full- or part-time jobs typically can still achieve certification in just three years or less.

Students’ age, experience and background run the gamut from fresh out of high school to people in their 50s seeking a new career to military veterans transitioning to civilian life to those leaving the penal system. Single moms and people of color are not at a hiring disadvantage. In fact, more than half of the radiographers in Albany are women who find the field is a good fit and plays to their ability to pay attention to detail.

Industry standards drive the curriculum at LBCC, making students highly employable. Classes are taught to American Society for Nondestructive Testing recommended practice, fulfilling detailed requirements for 40 hours of classroom training and 600 hours on task. Individual classes are certificate based, aligning with industry protocols and meeting the prerequisites to work in locations across the globe. Students get the baseline qualifications and then, like a general practice doctor who branches off into pediatrics or gastroenterology, can choose a specific sector that fits their interests and lifestyle.

“Classroom size varies from 15 to 21 students and the college is recruiting part-time faculty to grow the program,” Ballard said. “Students are afforded real-life opportunities with industry partners early in the program — in essence a long-term job interview.”

Return on investment comes quickly. While going to school and receiving the required number of hours of classroom training required for certification, the majority of first-year students already work with industry partners, with many transitioning to full-time paid positions during the summer or weekends. 

Employment outlook

According to LBCC, in the past two years, 100% of students who completed the nondestructive testing program have found jobs in the field. Even during the pandemic, when industries like aerospace were hit hard, all of the students in the NDT program got hired.

Wages vary depending on industry specifics, geographic location and amount of travel involved, with many companies offering a signing bonus. Entry-level inspectors in Albany earn roughly $20 to $23 per hour; in the Portland metro area, that figure is $22 to $27 per hour. With three to five years of experience, those numbers can climb $5-$7 more an hour, and in Bremerton, Washington, wages are in the range of $30 to $35 per hour.

The outlook for inspectors is rosy. Over the next seven to eight years, some 70,000 jobs in the US naval shipyard sector alone are expected to be lost through attrition and retirement. So, industry partners across the board are working hard now to recruit replacements.

Linn-Benton Community College’s NDT program is a pipeline to those jobs and a better future for its grads.

Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues.  The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.