‘There’s no net zero without new nuclear’. This was one of the key takeaways from a nuclear sector event at the House of Commons at the end of April.

The Parliamentary Panel, hosted by the Trade Unionists for Safe Nuclear Energy (TUSNE) and Great British Nuclear, was attended by industry and government stakeholders to discuss priority areas within the sector.

The event underlined the important contribution of ‘new nuclear’ to achieve the country’s net zero and clean energy ambitions, with the goal of nuclear generating a quarter of the UK’s electricity by 2050.

However, the panel highlighted skills gaps in the sector as a major hurdle to realising these ambitions amid rapid growth in the nuclear industry.

The Engineering Construction Industry Training Board’s (ECITB) Leading Industry Learning Strategy prioritises ensuring industry has the skilled workers it needs to meet demand.

The ECITB’s Labour Forecasting Tool forecasts a 30% increase in demand for skilled workers in the nuclear sector over the next five years, so it’s vital we ramp up training and development to ensure the industry has the right skills in place to fill these gaps.

As I mark the first anniversary since becoming ECITB Chief Executive, it is timely to reflect on the many site visits I have made across the country which have helped me better understand the challenges facing industry’s different sectors, such as nuclear.

Andrew Hockey far right and ECITB colleagues David Nash and Thomas Docherty on a recent tour of the Sellafield plant in Cumbria

During my recent trips to Sellafield and Hinkley Point C, I held valuable discussions with key stakeholders on the skills and training needs of the nuclear workforce.

The insights from these trips will inform our work in attracting and developing new talent and providing high-quality training.

Commitment from industry

In March, the Government declared a ‘national endeavour’ to secure the future of the UK’s nuclear industry.

It announced an investment in nuclear skills – which includes £350 million from the Government and more than £400 million from industry – to create more than 8,000 career opportunities to help the sector fill 40,000 new jobs by the end of the decade.

This partnership with industry seeks to train up the nuclear workforce of tomorrow and includes plans to double the number of nuclear apprentices and graduates.

As the statutory skills body for the civil nuclear sector, the ECITB worked with the Nuclear Skills Taskforce to develop its recommendations.

We applaud the commitment from industry to strengthen cooperation and investment across the sector to help attract and train the next generation of nuclear workers.

Alongside this commitment, however, is a need to make sure the growing number of opportunities appeal to new entrants.

The ECITB’s career motivations study ‘Inspiring Directions’ concluded that the current view of the nuclear sector could pose recruitment challenges.

The study showed the sector is struggling to appeal to the general population, and in particular women, to help plug these looming workforce and skills shortages.

When asked whether they would consider a career in the nuclear sector, just 17% said yes, with this figure down at 12% for women, which could hinder efforts to improve diversity across the workforce.

We recognise solving this problem requires a collaborative, multi-agency approach to ensure careers in the sector are more visible and attractive, so the launch in February of a first sector-wide initiative was a welcome move.

The Destination Nuclear campaign brings together government, sector organisations, suppliers and education institutions with the shared aim of attracting and recruiting more people into the industry to help fill these skills gaps.

The campaign will target those considering a career change with transferable skills, support apprenticeships and graduate schemes, show the wealth of opportunities the sector has to offer and help a broader range of people venture into a nuclear career.

Attracting new entrants

Training and developing new entrants is a key priority of the ECITB strategy, which is why half of our training grant budget is dedicated to this area.

Our collaborative and co-funded Work Ready Programme initiative, for example, has been developed to create a pipeline of new entrants to address skills gaps across industry.

At the start of this year, a group of 12 people aged 19 and over, including those who have been long-term unemployed, started on the programme in Cumbria.

Learners are gaining recognised skills and accredited qualifications on the programme at Lakes College and, on successful completion, will secure jobs with Jacobs Field Services and Shepley and be deployed onto the Sellafield nuclear site.

Working in partnership like this underlines the important role we all have in delivering, growing and maintaining a skilled nuclear workforce fit for the future.

 Blog by ECITB Chief Executive Andrew Hockey

Find out more about the ECITB here.

Lead image credit: EDF