With UK Nuclear set for unprecedented levels of growth, the skills challenge we face now is perhaps more critical than at any point in the sector’s history.
Latest modelling from employer data indicates an estimated 300% increase in personnel will be needed by 2050, from engineers and welders to technicians and safety personnel. To put this into perspective the sector currently employs circa 80,000 people.
Nuclear has a reputation for creating highly-skilled, secure and rewarding careers, often in some of the more economically disadvantaged areas of the UK. However, without the right people and skills in sufficient quantities, we simply won’t have a workforce to deliver our nuclear ambitions.
Consequently, the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group (NSSG) – the sector-led skills body – has identified and prioritised 11 of the most critical skills in demand and is collaborating across the sector to mitigate the most significant skills risks.
Those involved in the nuclear sector are uniquely placed to understand the workplace skills required, which is why NSSG membership consists of major employers, government departments, and skills providers, working collectively for the good of the sector.
At a sector-wide gathering encompassing senior leaders, government stakeholders and academia, industry partners agreed on four key commitments to help deliver the sector’s future workforce:
- Reputation nuclear Promoting the national importance of nuclear – and the existing and diverse opportunities available through a career in the nuclear sector – by speaking with a common voice.
- Inspiring the future workforce Actively engaging to inspire and attract the next generation of the nuclear workforce, which is fully representative of society.
- People value Creating an environment which demonstrably values the workforce and promotes the nuclear sector as a great place to work.
- Doing things differently, together Advocate for each other, take collective action and challenge traditional ways of doing business to build and sustain the nuclear sector workforce.
The size and scale of the skills challenge demands an innovative approach to resolving critical skills gaps and the NSSG is doing this through a combination of strong sectoral leadership, robust data analysis and the creation of agile “task and finish” groups.
The approach of these groups to tackling skills challenges involves:
- Analysis: to diagnose the size and scale of the problem, explore what provision exists already and think about how to scale it.
- Delivery: scaling up current skills availability or – if there are issues in either quality of programmes or genuine knowledge gaps – developing a business case to meet that need.
- Evaluation: measuring whether the solution has addressed the problem.
The skills areas currently in focus include welding, radiological protection, project controls and safety.
Jamie White from EDF (an NSSG member) is currently leading one of the task and finish groups – specifically to address the lack of welding provision within the sector. Undeniably, there are a number of unique difficulties facing the occupation, from the temporary nature of construction work on nuclear facilities to attracting people to work in what is perceived as a ‘dirty’ environment requiring only rudimentary skills. Historical and inaccurate perceptions such as these need to be addressed if we are to attract young people (and more women) into roles that will play a crucial part in the development of our low-carbon economy.
The goal now is to show that the sector offers long-term career potential with the ability to develop in-demand skills for a range of future projects; unlocking the entire “pipeline” of skills development whilst also ensuring the training is there, as well as the candidates.
In addition to the activities focussed on specific skill set areas, the NSSG also develops ‘enabling solutions’ to address the skills challenge. This includes getting involved in school curricula, addressing challenges in vocational education systems and developing cross-sector secondment to achieve competence sooner. Collectively, these actions all enhance sector skills.
It’s rare in any industry sector for major companies to collaborate at a sector level with joint investment to solve a problem such as this. Rather than acting as market competitors for skills in short supply, the NSSG’s group members are tasked with growing the overall size of the talent pool.
Certainly, the industry has been here before. But, this time, we have the impetus, the evidence and focus groups supported by a disciplined project management approach to address the problem in a way that hasn’t been done before.
Head of Nuclear Skills
Nuclear Skills Strategy Group
For more information on how to sign up to the four commitments, email [email protected].
About the NSSG
The Nuclear Skills Strategy Group (NSSG) is the employer-led nuclear industry skills lead and provides ‘one voice’ to government. Find out more here: https://youtu.be/CIyWmM0KRo0