Where do the nuclear skills of the future come from?
The UK nuclear industry, both the civil and defence sides, is facing a major shortage of Suitably Qualified and Experienced People (SQEP) which is causing delays and increased costs for projects, operations and the future of the industry. The long-term decline of the industry, with fewer new plants being built and older plants being retired, has led to a decrease in the number of people entering the nuclear workforce and a lack of investment in training and development for current workers. This is a huge problem for the industry, as many experienced workers are reaching retirement age, and there are not enough new workers to take their place.
The UK Government, as part of its energy security and decarbonisation strategies and Powering Up Britain blueprint, has announced an ambition of up to 24 gigawatts (GW) of new nuclear by 2050. This includes the development of Small Modular Reactors, Advanced Nuclear Technologies, Fusion Reactor research, new decommissioning programmes and separately for Defence, the next generation of nuclear submarines. This is a huge goal, and it begs the question, where is the plan to provide the skills to deliver all of this? The nuclear industry needs to invest in training and development programs to attract and retain new workers in order to meet this ambition. This includes providing educational and training opportunities for current workers and students, as well as offering incentives for people to enter the nuclear workforce from other sectors.
We need to challenge the way that we encourage and train the next generation of SQEP individuals for the nuclear industry. As the Next Generation Nuclear Industry Council report – Stepping into the Future observed, “other practices from other sectors and organisations whereby skills development isn’t simply characterised by the old teaching the new”.
Training new personnel in the nuclear industry is a long-term process that requires a strategic and comprehensive approach. The industry needs to work with schools, colleges, and universities to develop curriculum that focuses on nuclear and the wealth of skills and capabilities that opportunities in the industry present. This includes better promoting of nuclear energy as a viable and sustainable source of power, to attract new talent in the field.
The importance of nuclear energy in meeting global energy demand and reducing carbon emissions, as well as the exciting and challenging career opportunities available in the nuclear industry, should be an easy sell. Only then, can the industry address the current shortage of trained resources and meet the increasing demand of nuclear energy in the future.
The time to develop new strategies to address these challenges is here. We now need to focus on:
1. Developing educational and training programs: The industry should invest in developing educational and training programs that focus on the range of skills required in the industry, not just nuclear science and engineering. This can include offering internships, apprenticeships, and other training programs for students and current workers.
2. Collaborating with educational institutions: The industry should work with schools, colleges, and universities to develop initiatives and workshops to engage future workers over the opportunities and to excite their interest.
3. Utilising technology and simulation: The industry can use technology, like simulation software, to provide training opportunities that mimic real-world scenarios. This can help to prepare workers for the challenges they will face on the job and engage a new generation.
4. Building a mentorship program: The industry can establish mentorship programs that pair experienced workers with new and prospective hires, to provide guidance and support as they learn the ropes.
5. Continuous learning: The industry should also invest in continuous learning opportunities, such as training workshops, seminars, and conferences, to ensure that current workers stay up-to-date on the latest technologies, best practices and the leadership skills required for the nuclear industry of the future.
The industry can find resources for new personnel from the educational institutions, such as universities and technical schools, by working with them to attract students to the field, and also reaching out to veterans, who have relevant skills and experience that can be transferable to the nuclear industry.
Taking advantage of experienced resources from other sectors, particularly those in decline, and cross-skilling them into nuclear to ensure that scarce skillsets are shored up is also an important route. Not only will resources with experience in other sectors bring in new perspectives and approaches to the nuclear industry, it will also help to drive innovation and improve efficiency. We talk about bringing in Relevant Good Practice (RGP) into the nuclear sector, well lets do it.
The nuclear industry is in a critical phase and it is vital that the industry takes immediate action to address this shortage of Suitably Qualified and Experienced People, as it is essential to ensuring the future of the industry.