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Listen as host Marybeth Miceli asks Don Booth from AINDT all about their new immersive student housing experience for their NDT training classes.

AINDT Digital Interactive Student Housing

by Don Booth

Marybeth Miceli:
Hello, and welcome to NDTnow.coms podcast, GAIN. Exploring topics in NDT, which affect your business. I’m your host, Marybeth Miceli. Today’s podcast is brought to you by Surehand, the self-service hiring platform that instantly matches industrial employers with verified trades people. On today’s podcast, We have Don booth from the American Institute of Nondestructive Testing, here to talk about the launch of their new immersive training center, what they’re calling, Digital Interactive Student Housing. Don, thanks for being here today with us.

Don Booth:
Hi. No, thank you. I appreciate the time.

Marybeth Miceli:
So, AINDT seems to always be thinking outside the box when it comes to in-person NDT training. And just a few years ago, you opened your high tech training facility in Minnesota. So first, can we talk a little bit about that facility?

Don Booth:
Sure. We, purchased a 21,000 square foot facility in November of 2019, did all the remodeling in December of 2019 and moved into that facility in January of 2020. So, out of that 21,000 square feet, 16,000 square feet is our training facility. So, we built new employee offices, training lab. We partnered with Carestream and created a Carestream training center there, and also provided more of a cafeteria style. We don’t serve food, but we created a nice break area for our students. 16,000 square feet is a lot of room. It gives our students a chance to stretch out and have room to really enjoy the training experience.

Marybeth Miceli:
Excellent. Yes, I saw a very cool 3d model on your website of the whole facility, which was nice to get to sort of walk around virtually in the facility, which was really great. So after you purchased this and this facility, and remodeled it and everything, you then bought a hotel, which I’m sure initially raised a few eyebrows. But, it really makes sense when you think about the hotel costs that are traditionally associated with sending personnel to training. But, it seems that you’ve taken it about 20 steps further than that. So, can you tell us a little bit more about that facility?

Don Booth:
Well, the reason we… I’ve always had a vision of a campus, even a year before I started this company, I had envisioned the company, and then having our own student. And now, it’s eight years this month that we opened, May 1st of 2013. And, I finally got a campus in July of 2020. I bought a hotel, and it’s a 34 unit hotel. And at first, we figured, well, we can run it as a hotel and provide housing for our clients, but I just really had to come down to the realization that I’m not in the hotel business. I really just wanted to have a more digital interactive student housing, where it’s private for our campus and for our clients. And, the reason that I did that is so I could create an immersive experience.

Don Booth:
Kind of felt that NDT education and careers haven’t been elevated to where they need to be. I mean, NDT personnel, aren’t just ultrasound techs, or radiographers, they learn about corrosion mechanisms, and cyclical fatigue, and thermal fatigue and so much more. It’s so much more. Sure, we learn what we learn, in non-destructive testing, we apply the methods, but there’s so much more that we learn. And, I just think people forget that. So what I did is, we closed it as a hotel and we’ve been remodeling it. We’ve put in a small museum, where we have some antique X-ray tubes, and different vintage NDT equipment, along with art and history. And right now, we’re in the process of like, we have pictures of Marie Curie, Rankine, Rutherford, even Tesla, Einstein, Oersted, Maxwell, Faraday, and all the kind of the founding fathers of science, right.

Don Booth:
And then, to make it a digital interactive campus, we’re putting QR codes on each of the pieces of art on the walls throughout the campus, and you can scan it and it’ll give you the history of that person. So, our students that come here from around the country, can walk through our campus and actually have a digital experience with learning in history as well. And then, the second component is we’ve created a new channel in each of our rooms, we should be done here very shortly, that has an AINDT study channel, so you’ll be able to log in and let’s say you’re studying radiography, and you went over chapter seven, eight and nine that day, and you have a quiz the next day on it. Well, you’ll be able to log in and listen to instructor led quiz reviews on all the methods, and for every chapter and all of our curriculum.

Don Booth:
So, that’ll give the students a chance to just, instead of cracking open your books, and digging in, and taking notes and paper quizzes, you’re going to be able to log in and listen to instructors talk about all the topics, and review them that you covered in class that day. So, those two components with the historical aspect, and the history of NDT, and the sciences along with the digital interactive review and study in your rooms is what the vision is.

Marybeth Miceli:
Oh my goodness. It sounds like a really unique learning experience, almost like I want to visit just to visit. And-

Don Booth:
Well, I hope you do. We have a room for you, so don’t worry about that. We have students here from around the country right now, and they are just floored by… I also tore out a few rooms and created a study room for our students with art, and a huge conference table, and a 70 inch TV to play these reviews on these instructor led reviews, a digital fireplace in there. Just a real comfortable, immersive experience. Instead of just going to school and going through the motions, they feel like they’re really part of something, which they are, of the NDT community. And so, it’s really had a huge impact on our students and our enrollment is even picking up because of it. We include our housing with our corporate training and our full program, because as you know, we wear two hats here. We’re a licensed private career school. We’ve placed over 400 people in the industry.

Don Booth:
In fact, a couple of the young ladies that have come through our course recently were spotlighted and highlighted by their company as women in NDT, which was really cool for us to see. And so then, we also offer our corporate training, and the secondary thing and not only the immersive feeling of the campus and everything, but what is one of the pain points for companies in training? Let’s say you go to another city, a larger city and it’s $120 a night, 150 a night for a hotel. Well, you send 10 people for a week and there’s another $7,500 on top of your training costs.

Don Booth:
And, for people who are our clients, and we provide exclusive NDT training to their companies, we just include that free with our hybrid model. So, you’ll do like 80 hours of online for level one and level two UT, and then come for four days of hands-on training. So, you can kind of get the best of both worlds. I never believed that online training by itself was the perfect answer, but by having the hybrid where you get to meet instructors and put your hands on the equipment, the hybrid program for companies is really a cost savings by an abbreviated time away out of the office, and then eliminating housing costs.

Marybeth Miceli:
Yeah. And, I really love that you’ve included such a history that ties everything together, because I think it’s important as people enter the industry, and continue to learn about different methods and increase their education, that they understand the gravity and the history of where we came from. So, the fact that you were tying it into history, and then we’re also really reiterating how important the job is that we’re all doing in this industry. I think what you’re doing there really captures that, and reminds us all about what we’re doing is important and it does make a difference. And, I see even… Our listeners can’t see, but I see the oil industry infographic behind you, and the bridge artwork behind you and I love that, that also allows them to see everything that we touch in NDT. Maybe they only work in oil and gas, and they don’t think about the aviation, or the aerospace, or the civil infrastructure, nuclear power that where NDT touches all of these places.

Don Booth:
You’re right. And, that’s why through our two levels of the hotel, all through the hallways, I have probably $10,000 worth of canvas art. And people might say, “Well, God, what’s the return on investment?” “You spent $10,000 that doesn’t really make you any money.” Well, it does, when the students come to appreciate the facility, and their experience, and how they feel. And in business, I always say people talk about customer service, but really, it comes down to customer experience. Customer service is just a subset of the experience. It’s like when you go out to a restaurant, and you’re giving your hard earned money for a product, and you want to feel good about that, you want to have a good experience.

Don Booth:
And, that’s why people will do business with you as well. I mean, customer service is a part of it, obviously a quality product and there’s many components in business obviously. But the customer experience, when they walk in and they feel like, “Wow, this school really cares about my education, they’ve provided a private campus.” I came down here the other night, I think it was like Sunday night, I ran down here for something, it was like quarter to nine and there was eight students in the conference room at the conference table with their books all open, studying. And so, we’ve created this area for people to gather and study together. And, it’s really immersive. I think it’s going to be really helpful for all students, whether they come for our full program or for corporate training.

Marybeth Miceli:
Yeah. And, I think that kind of collaborative learning sticks with them. Because, we all know in NDT, it’s so hard to know everything. And so, you really rely on your network to call somebody and say, “Hey, I have this problem, or I have this challenge, do you have any ideas about this?” So, I think that collaborative experience for learning sticks with them throughout their careers. I know the training that I went through with infrared thermography, I still stay in touch with some of the folks from that, which was probably back in 2001, so 20 years now. And, this business is all about relationships, and so, being able to solve problems together, and throughout your career when you move to different companies and that sort of thing, it’s really invaluable.

Don Booth:
Yeah. Our students really create a bond here. Everyone shows up from around the country for their three weeks of hands-on for our full program, after they’ve done the online. And, you can just watch the students all start to interact the first day, and they maybe a little quiet or getting to know each other. And then, and then all of a sudden a weekend, they’re going out to dinner together, studying together. And, we have students keeping in touch for years. They keep reaching out to us. I mean, my instructor, Matthew Junkert, I think the last class bought him a basketball and all signed it for him. And because, they just really have a connection with our instructors, and we really care and I think people feel that.

Don Booth:
We really care about your education, we care about your future, we care about your career. We’re not here to just process people. I mean, a lot of people have asked me, “How many people can we enroll and still be effective?” And I said, “How many people can we place?” If we keep those two things equal, everybody wins. I run a profitable company and my customers, my clients get the outcome that they desire.

Marybeth Miceli:
For sure. So while you’re here, can you tell us a little bit about your partnership with Carestream?

Don Booth:
So, Marty Graen from Carestream and I had been talking for quite some time, and I had taken their training program in New York and it was a good training program. We learned a lot, but they were looking for someone to really dig deep into the curriculum and that’s not what they do. I mean, they’re very good at what they do and we’re good at what we do, and so it just seemed to be a good fit. So, we provide training in all of North America now for Carestream. And, we’re also launching it into South America, the Middle East and France for our online training. We’re working on that right now.

Don Booth:
So, we’ve created a 40 hour online training for CR, for DR. We have a [SN-1 00:14:57] that meets SNT-TC-1A of course. And then, we also have a 40 hour at our facility in Minnesota, once again, includes housing. But that’s very in-depth, they’re all very in-depth. And so, it kind of met a need for them and really where the rubber meets the road, I guess, in this, is that Carestream wanted to give their clients the support they deserve, and to have level threes on staff, and enrollment staff and everything I have for the facility. And, it was just smarter for us to partner instead of try to replicate that.

Marybeth Miceli:
Yeah, I think that’s really important. I think a lot of times in NDT people start to try to do each part, whether it’s manufacturing and training, and writing and all sorts of stuff. So, I think the industry has gotten to a point now, where we have people who are specialized in different areas, and that partnering between the two makes a lot of sense, for sure.

Don Booth:
Yeah. And speaking of specializing, we get requests for consulting in level three representation, if not monthly, weekly, sometimes. I mean, and though I’ve always shied away from it, I mean, between me and my other staff, we have like 16 level three ASNT level certs in our office.

Marybeth Miceli:
Wow.

Don Booth:
So, we have a wide base of knowledge and we have the capability to do consulting, but I just didn’t want to fracture my company. I wanted to be the best training facility and organization out there. And so, we’ve just shied away from that part of the business, not because of capabilities, but because we just didn’t want to lose our focus on my vision from the beginning of offering something special in NDT training.

Marybeth Miceli:
Well, you’re certainly doing that. And, I want to thank you for joining us today and really for pushing the NDT industry forward. I think this is really revolutionary about your vision, and the kind of care that NDT training really deserves. And so, thank you. And, please keep us informed, keep our listeners informed. We’d love to do a little walkthrough with a video. I know you’ll probably have a video, so we’ll be happy to share that with our listeners, once that comes out. Really looking forward to seeing what you’re doing with the facility.

Don Booth:
Well, I will throw in one more thing here, because you kind of triggered a memory, a thought here. I’m sitting in our podcast studio right now, so inside of our new digital interactive housing, we created a filming studio and a podcast studio. So, AINDT is launching an industry podcast. We’re going to do some themes, like the top 10, top 10 glossary terms that we want you to know for magnetic particle or whatever. And, we’re going to create… We also want to reach out to people like you. I want to do a podcast with you. I want to ask you some questions, and talk about what you’re accomplishing, and any of our clients or anybody in the industry, I would really urge you to reach out to us at AINDT.

Don Booth:
We’d love to learn about your company. We’d love to help support marketing it, and get the word out of what your dreams, and what your goals are doing and what you’re up to. So, it’ll be our AINDT podcast, that’ll be starting in a few weeks and that’s pretty exciting to me, I think. I think it’ll give a lot of knowledge to people, and just help expand the knowledge of what’s happening in the industry.

Marybeth Miceli:
Well, excellent. We always include all of the industry podcasts on our site as well, on the home page and on the podcast page. So for sure, let us know about that, and we’ll make sure all our listeners know how they can listen to you.

Don Booth:
I appreciate your time.

Marybeth Miceli:
Thank you. And, thank you all for listening again today. Remember, every month here at NDTnow.com, we have GAIN and we’ve got your six, and level up. So, be sure to tune in every month to our podcast series, they’re all brought to you by Surehand. Let good jobs find you, learn more at surehand.com.