How to Become a Successful Certified Welding Inspector: The Complete Guide

Certified welding inspectors play a vital role both in the commercial and industrial sector. With a wide variety of projects available, from construction and manufacturing, to mining, aerospace, as well as shipbuilding, all types and levels of welding inspector jobs are in growing demand.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the need for welders is expected to grow by 8 percent by 2030. Welding growing as fast as all other professions in America with an average of 50,000 new jobs opening each year. 
The growing demand for welders has caused many job seekers to consider a career in welding for a few reasons. The welding industry offers higher than average starting pay, good benefits, and a bright future.

Source: https://advanced.edu/blog/welding-jobs-demand-increase/ 


But the safety standards and skill expectations are growing with it. While you can look forward to competitive pay and benefits as a CWI, you also need to be prepared for ongoing learning. 

You’ll find that many welding inspector jobs on BuildStream call for highly experienced and certified welding inspectors to fill the available roles. Whether you’re new to the industry or you’d like to increase your chances to land the finest available welding inspector jobs, this guide can help you learn how to become a CWI.


Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ultrasonic_pipeline_test.jpg

A photo of a welding inspector conducting an ultrasonic pipeline test.

Key Responsibilities of a Welding Inspector

Different tiers of CWI jobs come with different responsibilities, but some are shared by all of them.

  • Setting the ground rules of on-site safety - a certified welding inspector will often notify the welding team of all the necessary health and safety regulations they need to follow before the project begins.
  • Ensuring optimal work conditions - for most outdoor and offshore projects, welders also need to be mindful of the weather. A welding inspector will make sure that it is safe to perform their duties based on the environmental conditions.
  • Inspecting the site to make sure the workstation and workers are neat, organised, and ready to work. 
  • Testing all the welding equipment and tools for safe and optimal performance - sometimes pieces of equipment require servicing before being put to use again.
  • Preparing the correct welding procedures and documentation for each project.
  • During the project, welding inspectors assess and review the welding work to spot defects and potential safety hazards or subpar quality.
  • Inspecting to ensure the use of optimal temperature control methods on-site.
  • Making sure that each weld is sturdy, secure, and that the welding procedures used do not jeopardise the structural integrity of the project.


Paul Brown, Project Manager at Francis Brown Ltd and an experienced industry expert shared with BuildStream that the role also requires the following qualities:

  • A welding inspector needs to be able to develop a collaborative, proactive approach and work closely with the supplier and other industry professionals to make sure the end product is of the highest quality and integrity.
  • Some level of flexibility comes with the job, as well, to ensure the quality of work doesn’t suffer as a result of potential date changes on a project. 
  • Familiarity with each client’s specifications as well as international codes and standards.
  • Has an overview of any Technical Query/Concession that may have already occurred in the Project.


A CWI inspector is also in charge of several types of inspection prior to, during and after the welding process:

Visual Inspection (VT)

As the simplest and most convenient NDT method, CWI inspectors use it to spot any surface flaws or defects of the weld, such as cracks, unfilled craters, or warping, among others. 

This is a reliable method for identifying alignment and fit issues, dimensional inaccuracies, or cleanliness. For example, the build-up of oil, grease, or other substances can mask the actual state of the weld, so it needs to be cleaned.

In addition to good vision and optimal lighting, an inspector can use several tools to further inspect the weld visually. Those include:

  • A square that includes a ruler and a pocket rule to check if the size is correct
  • A weld size gauge for checking fillet weld leg length, concavity, convexity, and reinforcement
  • A magnifying glass for a more precise assessment
  • A straightedge

Radiographic Inspection (RT)

To see beyond the surface of the weld, certified welding inspectors need to employ additional methods, including RT. Still non-destructive, RT calls for radiography equipment that generates powerful x-rays. 

The x-rays penetrate into the material differently depending on its thickness as well as density. The inspection then reveals any internal damage or defects that need addressing.

Since RT involves the use of equipment that can be hazardous for human health, it’s necessary for the inspector to understand and implement all the right precautions before using this method.

Magnetic Particle Inspection (MT) 

With the ability to adjust the levels of sensitivity of this testing method, MT helps inspectors spot welding flaws immediately. This method has a setback: it can only be used on ferromagnetic materials such as iron, cobalt, nickel, or certain alloys.

Add to that, if the surface you need to inspect has a thick coating, MT might not be the most suitable option available. 

Liquid Penetrant Inspection (PT)

A great inspection method for finding flaws such as cracks on the surface of the weld, PT can be used for both ferromagnetic and antiferromagnetic materials. It allows inspectors to spot extremely small defects that cannot be seen by the naked eye.

Ultrasonic Inspection (UT)

A great testing method for detecting both surface and internal welding flaws, UT helps inspectors locate and measure any discontinuities, no matter their size or depth. That is why a certified welding inspector needs to know how to use the UT technology for the most sensitive and detailed inspections.


When you have experience with any of these testing methods, note it down on your resume. In case you’re not sure what type of information would be helpful for a prospective employer, BuildStream can help you refine your CV before applying for a job. 

How Much Do Welding Inspectors Make?

If you’re in the process of learning how to become a welding inspector, you are also interested in how lucrative this job can be. Thanks to the high demand in multiple sectors, the certified welding inspector salary and the hourly wage can be fairly high.

For example, welding inspectors in the US who prefer working for one company on a long-term basis typically earn about $35 per hour. A welding inspector willing to travel and work as a contractor can charge up to $75 in some scenarios.

In the UK, rates can vary quite significantly depending on the location, client and project though rates of £14 - £30 per hour can be expected. Based on the research by SalaryExpert, Germany offers around €16,95 per hour, whereas that number is slightly higher in Belgium, reaching about €18,06 per hour. In France, on the other hand, it can be about €14 per hour. 


A screenshot with the salary data of welding inspectors in the UK.

Source: https://www.payscale.com/research/UK/Job=Welding_Inspector/Hourly_Rate 


The CWI salary is different depending on the industry, and it often reflects the risk involved. For example, welding inspectors that inspect aeroplanes often get higher salaries. Then again, the discrepancies are also caused by the cost of living in different regions - the more expensive the country, the higher the pay.

If you can qualify for a Senior Welding Inspector, meaning that you have accumulated over 9 years of experience, you can also expect better compensation. 


Photo by Eva Darron on Unsplash 

A photo showing the view of a sunset from an airplane window.

The Pros and Cons of Being a CWI

Every person involved in the welding process makes the world a safer place and our modern life an easier, more convenient one. Welding inspection contributes greatly to building secure, sound buildings, transportation systems, as well as energy systems. 

As rewarding as this career path is, it also comes with its drawbacks. It’s good to be aware of both so that you can decide if this path is the right one for you.

Rewards

  • Competitive salaries
  • Perks and benefits that modern employers offer
  • Travel - many certified welding inspectors get to see the world through their job
  • Connections - working in any of the possible industries allows you to meet incredible professionals and make invaluable connections along the way
  • Ongoing learning and advancement - you can climb the ladder, but you can also perfect your skills and knowledge as you constantly handle the latest tools, equipment and master the latest methods in the profession

Challenges

  • Travel - for welding inspectors with families, this can represent a drawback rather than a perk
  • Compliance with local tax rules when working internationally
  • Risk - working at construction sites and similarly demanding projects means facing certain risks, which are mostly prevented with the right protocols and equipment, but are present nonetheless
  • Responsibility - both for the quality of the conducted work and the safety of the workplace, as well as a wide range of industry-specific compliance requirements


Photo by Pete Wright on Unsplash 

A photo showing a welder working in uniform with protection.

#Obtain Welding Experience

It’s common for employers to have different CWI requirements in terms of education and experience. Let’s first clear one misconception: you don’t need a degree in welding engineering in order to work as a CWI welding inspector or a Senior Welding Inspector. 

You do, however, need to have recent and relevant welding experience while most employers will also look for candidates with at least a high school degree.

#Fulfil the Right Welder Education Requirements

You don’t need academic education to become a CWI welding inspector, but you might increase your chances by earning an associate degree in welding technology. 

Knowledge of the latest welding methods and equipment certainly gives you an advantage when applying for this position. Experience with NDT tools and processes is also beneficial.

In the US, the test you need to take to qualify for a welding inspector isn’t available to everyone. You need to have accumulated enough welding experience approved by the American Welding Society (AWS) to take the test. There are different tiers of becoming an AWS certified welding inspector, and we’ll cover that in more depth later in this article.

These certifications are nationally and internationally accepted. However, many other regions have their own certification programs. In the UK, CSWIP certification is also available and it’s recognized worldwide. 

In Europe, different National Organisations (also known as ANBs) that are approved and accredited by the International Institute of Welding (IIW) can provide the right training and certification depending on your location. 

In Australia, the Australian Welding Institute (AWI) is in charge of providing the right AWI welding education and internationally recognized certification to their welders and aspiring welding professionals. 

If you are already a welder with the right training and skills, you can then build upon your welding experience with the right certifications to become a welding inspector.


Source: https://www.aws.org/home

A screenshot showing part of the American Welding Society homepage.

Exams and Qualifications

In the AWS system, there are several key levels of AWS CWI certification for an inspector. 

CAWI Certification 

For younger and less experienced professionals in the field, the first step would be to obtain a Certified Associate Welding Inspector role. This means you’ll work alongside and under the supervision of a Certified Welding Inspector, or a Senior Certified Welding Inspector.

Working in this role will help you get enough experience and exposure to the trade in order to advance and earn your CWI certificate.

To qualify, you need the following levels of education and work experience: 


A screenshot from the American Welding Society website with the information showing the education and experience requirements for the CAWI certification.

Source: https://www.aws.org/certification/page/certified-associate-welding-inspector-cawi-program 


The exam itself has 3 parts. Part A contains 80 hours of material that you can go over at your own pace. Part B is a practical portion that requires you to spend 3 days with an instructor for in-person training. Part C teaches you to navigate the most frequently used codebooks at your own pace.


Pricing: 

  • $1,100 USD for members
  • $1,355 USD for non-members

CWI Certification

Whether you’ve worked in a CAWI role or you already have ample welding experience, you can start preparing for your CWI exam.  So, what is CWI certification and how is it different from the previous category?

As one of the world’s most widely-recognized credentials, the CWI program prepares you for the inspection process, but also to handle and oversee various testing procedures, manage qualification records, and the like.

As a more comprehensive qualification, the CWI test is therefore more demanding and calls for more experience than the CAWI program. 

When it comes to education and work experience requirements, they are as follows:


A screenshot from the American Welding Society website with the information showing the education and experience requirements for the CWI certification.

Source: https://www.aws.org/certification/page/certified-welding-inspector-cwi-program 


The exam has the same three-part format as for the CAWI certification, the first and last of which are self-paced, and the second one lasting three days of on-site instruction.


Pricing: 

  • $1,100 USD for members
  • $1,355 USD for non-members

SCWI Certification

Finally, the Senior Certified Welding Inspector credential is the final tier of this highly responsible role. In addition to ample experience as a CWI, you also need to show extensive knowledge of the most advanced problems in the industry.

Many candidates have over a decade of CWI experience, but they still cannot qualify for the SCWI exam. As a SCWI, you often need to handle additional responsibilities, such as overseeing and guiding the work of CAWI-level inspectors as well as CWIs. 

To qualify for the test, you need to hold the CWI certification for at least 6 years, and have at least 8 years of relevant work experience.

This particular exam contains two segments. Part A covers technical fundamentals, whereas Part B teaches you about administrative fundamentals, and each lasts two hours.


Pricing: 

  • $1,100 USD for members
  • $1,355 USD for non-members

How Often Should You Get Recertified?

As you already know, the welding trade advances rapidly, so the introduction of new technologies and more refined processes means you need to keep learning to obtain relevant knowledge.


  • The CAWI credential is valid for 3 years. Seen primarily as the springboard for obtaining the next two levels of welding inspection certification, this one cannot be renewed.
  • The CWI and the SCWI credentials are valid for 9 years, but you need to renew the licence at years 3 and 6 after you first receive your certification.

#Develop Additional Skills to Set You Apart in the Market

Now that you know how to become a certified welding inspector, consider working on what makes you a better candidate in the eyes of employers. Do you communicate well? How about working under pressure? Do you have experience with training and overseeing welders who want to become inspectors?

Let’s mention a few coveted skills that can set you apart from the rest when applying for a job:

  • Optimal computer and software capabilities - you’ll likely work with a range of digital tools in your trade. List the ones you know how to use proficiently. 
  • Essential maths knowledge - in performing your duties, you’ll often need to measure and calibrate equipment and weldments. 
  • Strong communication skills - working with welders and potentially CAWIs will require the ability to communicate goals, corrections, and make sure that everyone understands next steps based on your evaluations. 
  • Physical abilities and good health - even though you won’t perform any welding yourself, working in industries such as construction, mining, or manufacturing means dealing with heavy loads. You’ll often need to bend over or crawl into narrow spaces to perform inspections, and you’ll need the strength and stamina for the job.

#Embrace the Learning Curve

One of the most important CWI requirements is continuous professional growth. It’s not merely about regular licence renewals and recertification. 

This in-demand trade is constantly developing. You will need to stay on top of the latest trends in welding inspection, as well as your specific field of work.

This will not only make you a more successful welding inspector, but also a far more appealing candidate for potential employers.

#Apply for Valued CWI Inspector Jobs

Finally, to truly build your career and become successful, you need to seek out the best work opportunities in the industry. The BuildStream platform is designed to help industry professionals like yourself find and land the most lucrative, rewarding opportunities.

Update your resume or let one of the BuildStream professionals take a look and suggest changes. You can also create a profile here to make sure your name and skillset stands out for the employers looking to hire welding inspectors right now.

Do You Tick All the Boxes?

Becoming a CWI takes time and welding experience, but it is one of the more prosperous, rewarding careers you can take in any number of industries. Use this guide to help you understand the process of becoming a CWI, and make sure that you have the right qualifications for certified welding inspector jobs.

Once you’re ready, you can create a free profile here at BuildStream so that potential employers can find you with ease. Our team can help you refine your resume for free, as well, to make sure that you attract the best job offers available.

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