The UK Picture
The nuclear industry in the UK is facing a busy decade or two. On the agenda are three separate nuclear new build programmes (EDF, Horizon and NuGen), lifetime extensions within the existing fleet and a continuation of substantial decommissioning projects. In addition, the civil nuclear industry is likely to face competition for the same resources from the defence sector as there are major submarine projects scheduled for the same period.
Predictions made by organisations including the National Skills Academy for Nuclear (NSAN) suggest that demand for skilled professionals in nuclear will increase considerably in the next 15 years and that more needs to be done to stimulate the supply of such professionals. The fact that the UK nuclear industry stalled, in terms of hiring, for the 20 years up to 2008 means that the average age in the industry is around 53 and many of the most experienced and valuable workers in the industry will reach retirement age just as demand for their skills is increasing. All of the above factors point to a potential ‘’perfect storm’’ in terms of human resources in the UK. The potential effects of this could include rising salaries and heightened competition for scarce resources, with a worst case scenario of projects that overrun their schedule and cost predictions, because of a lack of the right skills at a specific point in time.
Fortunately, there are multiple sources that the UK nuclear industry can tap in to in order to find the people it needs:
Training and development of new graduates and apprentices – the long term nature of nuclear projects offers real career prospects to graduates and apprentices. In anticipation of increasing work, the industry and their supply chain have been hiring in earnest since around 2008. One of the positive side effects of the delay in nuclear new build is that these recent hires have had more time to develop and gain experience. Many organisations have recently scaled back graduate intakes to save costs in response to delays in the nuclear new build programmes. More certainty around projects and project time scales would definitely help to give organisations the confidence to keep hiring graduates.
Attracting people from other industries – there is a wealth of talented engineers, technicians and project professionals out there with the skills that the nuclear industry needs. There are tens of thousands of such people from the UK that work abroad because that is where the challenging projects are to be found. The nuclear industry has an opportunity to give these people the work that they are looking for without having to travel abroad. There is also a large pool of professionals working in high safety culture industries in the UK such as oil and gas or rail that could easily convert to the nuclear industry.
Employing retirees as mentors and trainers – skills transfer is a hot topic within the nuclear industry and the approaching wave of retirees offers a once in a lifetime opportunity. Commitment to the industry and a sense of solidarity that is common amongst nuclear professionals means that they are generally open to interesting consulting and skills transfer work after retirement. Offering flexible, deliverables-based or part time contracts increases the desirability of the work in the eyes of retirees.
Championing diversity – in an industry predominantly consisting of men aged between 40-60, there are three major opportunities to diversity the workforce: the young generation, women and foreign nationals. Hiring and nurturing the young generation is something the nuclear industry already does well, as evidenced by the active Young Generation Networks (YGNs) that exist in the UK and many other countries. It would make sense for the industry to put as much effort in to attracting women (Women in Nuclear is a great reference point) and to attracting foreign nationals with rare skills to relocate to the UK. Combining industry backing of diversity with individual policies and practices at organisation level would achieve the best results.
An International Perspective
Many other developed nuclear countries, such as Canada and the US, are in a similar position to the UK – aging workforce, decommissioning projects planned and nuclear new build happening or on the horizon. In addition there are several ‘’newcomer countries’’, such as the UAE and Poland, that are building nuclear power plants for the first time and are drawing from the international pool of expertise. The same opportunities exist for these countries as outlined for the UK, with some additional benefits.
Developed nuclear countries, such as the UK, could see the migration of valuable skilled individuals to other countries as a drain on resource, when in fact the benefits outweigh the costs. People that go to work abroad nearly always come home, and when they do they bring up to date project and technology experience with them, along with exposure to other cultures and ways of working. This serves to greatly enhance the value they can provide, as well as giving them valuable skills to transfer to others.
The nuclear supply chain is a global one, and the increasing globalisation of the nuclear industry means that this supply chain can move ever more efficiently from one part of the world to another, delivering value and developing as it goes. As many graduates are drawn to careers with international prospects, this globalisation presents another opportunity to attract and retain young talent.
There are some factors that will clearly make the difference in terms of developing a sustainable and competent global nuclear workforce in the coming decades.
In summary, it seems that the leaders of the nuclear industry have been largely preoccupied with political and financial matters in recent times – and with good justification. Now that these hurdles have been overcome in many cases, the important matter of human resources can take centre stage. The foundations have been laid and there are so many examples of best practice in the nuclear industry in areas such as attracting the young generation and international cooperation. The industry can now build on these successes by really promoting the opportunity that has been created for others to join the industry and driving through the transition to a diverse and international workforce. The spotlight is on the civil nuclear industry now and on human resources in particular. The actions taken relating to human resource strategy in the next 5 years will have a profound effect on the shape of the industry in the decades to come.
Written by Callum Thomas, CEO of Thomas Thor Associates, a leading recruitment and executive search organisation in the global nuclear industry.
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