The Commercial Diver Network
Hello. TOC Graduate here! Nov 10th 2011 UDT415.
Lurked around and didn't see any graduates offering info on this school, so I thought I'd throw some 'fairly' recent information out there, so people can make a more informed decision on whether or not to attend cla**** at "TOC". (and not have to make any more posts regarding this school as a choice)
First off, I do know that this is more of an international forum, but I've seen talk from some in the states...Also, keep in mind that I am neither trying to sell, or bash on TOC...just giving my fairest summary from the time I spent there. Some of this you can find on their site, but I'll add it in... anyway, I hope this will be informative at the very least.
Pros : Hands on experience, Staff, Networking potential, *Friends*
Cons : Cost, Location, misleading (from what my class has gathered)
Starting from the top :
Program info, enrollment and money related stuff
- TOC offers 2 Programs : NDT and UDT. The UDT program contains 2 disciplines of NDT (MT and UT to level II) Both programs offer welding and cutting, but the diving class adds in burning and underwater welding/burning. The NDT class covers RT, MT, UT, PT, and Eddie current along with 40 hour radiation safety course. - There's also *some* ROV training in both courses, but it mainly consists of driving a mini-rov around one of the tanks. Do not rely on this to get you into the realm of RoVs.
- Tuition was around $17,000, if eligible you can receive around $4,500-$5,200 in government grant money, and an additional $3,000-$6,000 from Texas work force/source if they have funds, once you take up residency. The school will also require you to pay a percentage of your tuition in order to graduate. They do allow you to make monthly payments equal to the total sum divided by 7. (you attend 7 1/2 months) I remember paying $2,100 total, so the most recent figure is around 8-10%.
- TOC requires a TWIC card (~$125) and a current passport to graduate.
- TOC requires a full dive physical out of pocket to graduate (~$250 from Wilcrest medical nearby, I've heard of a few who got theirs elsewhere for about $100, it has to be a *DIVE* physical, and it's pretty involved)
- You will have to purchase your own wetsuit/flippers/goggles/weight belt and weights for their open water course. (~$200-250 if you get your stuff from Tom) You will need steel toe boots, and will have to purchase welding gloves and a welding cap.
- If you decide to attend, try and time it so that you graduate early spring. October is probably the best time to start for UDT, so that you graduate when there is most opportunity for work. The downside is that you will be cold as f*** up until around January/February....But they do have a hot water generator up on deck :).
- Immediate housing around the area is mediocre. They have some run down apartments in the back, but I did hear there are some ladies around there that really *love* TOC students.
- Parking is pretty poor, the student entrance can beat the s*** out of your car and the parking lot is made entirely out of dirt and gravel/rocks. Just takes 1 idiot (and I've seen some really idiotic students) doing donuts...
- Lunch. This is actually quite nice at TOC...there is a roach coach that arrives around noon every school day that is priced fair and offers good meals. You can occasionally score some fantastic fresh&hot tomales from a dude that randomly shows up on the other side of the welding yard's fence. If none of this is your cup of tea, there are a plethora of restaurants in the surrounding area. If by this point you're broke as s*** and can't afford to eat, accommodations can be made with the faculty, which is very kind of them.
The facility, staff, and students :
- The facility itself is actually quite good. It does look shabby, but it is a very realistic representation of what you will be looking at in the field. (It's not all sunshine, roses and new paint) TOC just had it's deck redone, and on/in it is a 24' deep tank with part of an oil rig inside. (Main legs and riser assembly that you get to take apart and put back together) There are a few other 10'-15' tanks that you do various things in. There is also an oldschool operational dive bell that you will train in (that eventually smells like swamp + dead animals until the water gets flushed and changed out) There are also 2 working deco chambers in reasonable shape that get practiced on/in. In terms of the gear itself, Ray does his very best to maintain the dive hats! You will have the opportunity to try out several different dive hats as well, including KM 17-b, Superlite k, Gorski and Desco freeflow. They also have an oldschool prototype Gorski hat. (the KM superlite 17-B was my favs) You will also take a trip out to Gorski's place (more gas $$) to see his warehouse. At TOC there's definitely some trashed equipment and such floating about, but it's mostly due to some of the more disrespectful students who don't give a damn about anything. To be honest I find learning how to repair broken gear a huge plus, so I'm ok with it.
- As to the staff and training. Both are the strongest point of TOC. All of the staff have done work in the trade that they are teaching, and they know their s***. Some are more unfriendly than others. You will be made fun of, there will be profanity. (*some* will be in good fun) Other instructors are of a very good nature and are excellent tutors. Make sure to ask lots of questions and read the mo' frappin' code. (Don, Ray, Gary, Bruce, Jim and of course Ron the saftey guy /welding instructor, are great guys and stand out instructors)
Unfortunately there is alot of busy work, and there is definitely some encouragement towards memorizing answers to pass tests. Some of the material is reasonably difficult though, such as mixed gas thoery/dive treatments+tables and UT I&II. They DO want you to pass, and will be reasonably lenient on retakes. The hands on lessons are quite invaluable, and simply getting a feel for what you're getting into is absolutely worth it. TOC also does it's best to instill a good sense of work ethic, putting strong emphasis on being punctual. They say that the award given out for perfect attendance is worth it's weight in gold.
- Not all of the students are "upstanding citizens", so be prepared for this as well. TOC hosts what I call, a "convict rehab program". There were quite a few convicted felons that I knew of attending class with me and in the NDT section. (One guy even had an ankle bracelet on him, but was quite amiable and got along with our class nonetheless) This didn't necessarily bother me per se, as they were again, generally well behaved in class, but there were a few students who were unhappy about it. The reason behind the felon enrollment is that they can receive student aid as part of an actual government rehabilitation program, which is great in my opinion! Sadly, many end up getting thrown back into the system regardless. (from what I overheard from faculty)
- The cool thing is, you will make friends. Whether the class is 12 people (like mine) or 30, you're bound to forge some long lasting friendships, especially after being in the Gulf of Gary, or at the Galveston Motel. Making friend's is also useful due to networking, and being able to point each-other towards potential jobs is a plus. It will also make for an interesting conversation later on in life when you see where everyone else ends up!
S*** to be aware of :
- 3 sections of the UDT program are located in Galveston which is about an hour to an hour and a half drive, with no traffic, from TOC. I made note of this because it's going to be yet another chunk of change you will have to shell out in gas money/accomodations. (Cost me around 80-100 bucks, could have cost alot more) Open water cert with Tom was 2 days, open water tending with ray was 5 days, , and the offshore safety and survival was 3. If you decide to attend, I recommend just carpooling there and back for the 2 and 3 day ventures, whilst staying down there for the 5 day. If you pool your money and are smart about it, you can get 4 people per motel room and cut costs significantly. (just remember to be courteous or they'll throw your ass out as they are only allowed to book 2 per room so keep that in mind) Other advantages of getting a hotel include : close proximity to Galveston strip/beach for food (the spot has epic hamburgers), hot women (2 of our guys got lucky, and the itchy scratchies afterward) and of course the TEEX training facility.
*** A word of warning about the offshore safety and survival training. I've run into issues trying to use the cert obtained through this course, as it does not specify "HUET" on the certification doc**ent itself, even though a very lame and outdated version of the huet was administered in the course. Having been lined up for an offshore job on Monday, I've just heard back from Chevron and they are saying that this certificate is not valid for them, and that they will not let me board their helicopters until I get a proper cert containing a more recent version of the HUET. So if you plan on doing any offshore heli rides, TEEX may give you some issues. HUET is only recognized in the United States, so if you have to deal with helicopters outside the states, you will need the BOSIET, which wasn't part of the TOC program. (Hopefully they'll start doing BOSIET training at TOC, as it includes HUET)
JOBS (and networking) :
- Ah finally to the jobs...TOC in my opinion likes to bolster their student -> job % a little bit. The figures my class was told, was something like 75% employment rate after graduation. The only catch to this is that it encompa**** both programs, and NDT is quite high in demand. I'm fairly certain that 50% or less of my class was employed straight away. (It took me 6 months to land a good job and I was top of my class at 94% GPA)
TOC also has their own dedicated job finder. His name is Jeff, he's fairly awesome and was probably the biggest reason TOC was worth the money (for me). Jeff will do his best to give you the most up to date contacts for work. Sometimes he'll pull some strings while sending a resume or two of yours out to companies he knows will hire. He's also provided some interesting job opportunities that extended outside NDT and Diving that paid crazy good money (overseas sandblasting jobs). If you are UDT, he will hand you a fat stack of dive companies to visit/call/fax resumes to, you will also get some NDT prospects to go after. It is to be noted that you will be in charge of doing all of your own legwork...Jeff is not there to apply for your job, or land your job, only to point you in the right direction and give good advice. You will need an adequate resume handed in to Jeff to receive your work prospects and for graduating purposes.
TOC also hosts what they call a "meet-n'-greet" in which food is offered up as bribery to all of the NDT and dive companies looking for fresh meat. (and new-hires) The catering was actually pretty good, and consisted of Texas style BBQ ribs, chicken etc... During my meetngreet we got to speak with a cal dive and bisso rep. Poor cal dive, they didn't sound like they were doing well at all...
Oh and, Jeff will also try to find local jobs to pursue while being a student at TOC. I landed a pretty reasonable part time job through him myself, and it did wonders for putting gas in my tank and paying my bills. TOC itself also has an in house laborer position that can be filled at a reasonable wage.
So...The only downside to all of this, is that a vast majority of the diving companies are not in Houston, or even in Texas for that matter. Most of the offshore (Gulf o' Mexico.) companies reside in Louisiana, and this is the real downside to TOC's location. It's roughly 5-6 hours to get from TOC/Houston area to Louisiana, so you'll need even more gas money once you're done. On top of that, most of these Louisiana companies will want you to move nearby and take up residence (they really want to see a Louisiana address on the resume). A classmate (and friend) who hired on with Bisso happened to have family that lived nearby...lucky bugger. From personal experience, near the time after graduation there were at least 3 Louisiana based diving companies that were willing to grant me an interview for a tending position if I could immediately make the move (which I couldn't), so again, it's not impossible to land a tending job. (Persistence is key!!!!!!)
Ending thoughts and other useful tid-bits :
- Lastly, most of what I've read on these forums is pretty accurate. Even if you do manage to find a job, the work may not always be consistent, and you are going to be competing for it against the slew of hopefuls seeking a tending position, so that is also something to keep in mind. TOC alone graduates anywhere from 10-30 students per month in each of the 2 programs, all year 'round.
My other major qualm is with the NDT program, and that the way into most any NDT company is through an ENTRY LEVEL position, that requires 0 experience in the industry. I happened to land an offshore rope access/ndt job, only to learn that they take care of all of the training for their new hires. Of the 2 guys I trained with, one was fresh out of high-school and the other was a mechanic, neither of whom had taken any previous NDT courses. Our BOSIET is also being taken care of. HOWEVER, I would not have heard about this place if it was not for TOC.
Also, also. Pro-tip : a 40 hour radiation safety course (~$450-500) will open you up to any entry level radiography job (tons of these available), and the NDT companies worth applying to can in-house train MT/UT/PT/Eddie current. I imagine the "general" policy is similar if not the same as my company's, in that the training is free if you stay long enough. (It's 1 year for me, and I already plan on staying) The other nice bonus is that many of these NDT companies pay salary. That is to say, you will always be making money if you are employed through them, whether you are working or not...though, I heard that there's one guy in my company that has only had about 10 days off since the beginning of the year, and I'm being rushed out the door due to desperate need for more helping hands. (oh and we also get bonus pay on top of salary while working offshore or on a land rig)
If there are any current TOC students who end up reading this and would either like to amend, or add something to this review, feel free to post your opinions.
To people seeking out schools...I'd say that TOC is much better for pursuing a career in NDT, even though the training seems reasonably unnecessary. The list of local Houston NDT companies was vastly greater than the list of local Dive companies and is quite worth the money spent if your networking skills suck.
If you are a local Houstonian and are seeking a commercial diving career, then TOC is a great place to go. In my own opinion however; the Louisiana dive school that I've heard about is probably the best way to get into a diving career. I remember it being fairly cheap, and the fact that you will be situated in Louisiana is a super big plus.
HI, ADD ME TO UR FRIENDS PLS.. I WOULD LIKE TO ASK U SOME THINGS?
Great review man. Add me to your friends. I am going to the TOC in November, and I have alot of questions that maybe you could answer for me.
Feel free to just PM me. For some reason the server is having issues adding to friends list. I'd be happy to answer any questions you have.
Well I am in the military right know and I get out in 21 september. What do you think my chances would be to land a offshore job? Will being prior military and a helicopter mechanic help me get a better job? What kind of salary could I expect right out of school? Would it be good to do the NDT program after I have finished the UDT?
me to bro I start Nov 13
Two guys just got hurt down there.. Rushed in chopper to hospital.
Any idea how? Sucks to hear.
no word on what really happened yet..both guys expected to be ok last I heard.
hey Kyle im Angilo im going to TOC class starts on Nov 13 add me as a friend would love to share more info..