Going Where the Work Is

Several years ago, when the economy was humming along and there was strong demand for qualified NDT professionals, we spent a great deal of time advising job candidates on the merits of relocating. Companies were reaching out across state lines — even across the country — to recruit top talent. And they were often willing to pay all relocation costs to attract the best.

The situation, of course, has changed dramatically. NDT jobs are not nearly as plentiful in 2010. (Although we are seeing encouraging signs of life.) Today the question facing job seekers is not whether they should uproot and move to take a better job, but whether they should relocate to find ANY job in the NDT field.

The results of PQNDT’s latest industry survey show an uneven distribution of NDT jobs across the country (see chart below).

2009 Survey Respondents by Region

  • Northeast (NY, MA, ME, NH, VT, CT, RI) 6%
  • Mid-Atlantic (PA, MD, WV, DE, NJ) 8%
  • Southern (FL, GA, AL, MS, NC, SC, KY, TN, VA) 20%
  • Great Lakes (MI, IL, OH, IN, MN, WI) 13%
  • North Central (IA, KS, NE, SD, ND, MT, CO, WY, UT, ID) 10%
  • South Central (TX, LA, OK, NM, AR, MO) 27%
  • Pacific (CA, OR, WA, NV, AZ, AK, HI) 16%

The highest concentration of NDT jobs is across the southern tier of the country, a trend that has been accelerating over the years that we have conducted our survey. This is understandable, given the concentration of petroleum processors, shipbuilders and aerospace companies that blanket the region. Similarly, the erosion of manufacturing operations in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions has resulted in fewer and fewer NDT opportunities.

What does this mean for an NDT professional going forward? If you are in the “rust belt” states, you may need to be prepared to pack your bags and move south if you want to remain in the NDT field. Except for a few very specialized categories, I believe that NDT opportunities across the northern part of the U.S. will remain limited for several years to come. Job growth will continue to occur in the South.

Don’t count on an employer sending the corporate jet to move you and your family from Michigan to Texas. Such a “perk” is a rarity in today’s job market. Instead, your job search will have to be done long distance, and the cost of a transition to a new job will be yours to bear. (Although when placing job seekers we have been able to convince some employers to pay partial relocation costs. We call it the “U-Haul benefit.”). This is one more thing to consider when making your decision.

The balance between NDT job opening and job seekers has never been equal. Sometimes it is a job seeker’s market and employers must offer higher wages and enhanced benefits to attract the best NDT professionals. At other times (like now) the balance shifts and employers gain the upper hand.

Either way, NDT professionals who are dedicated to their work and wish to remain in the industry must be ready to adapt to changing conditions. Even if that means pulling up stakes and making a move to where their work takes them.