Bridging the Gap in the Nuclear New Build Programme

Kevin McNealey
The demographic profile of the nuclear workforce is changing with up to 70% of its highly skilled workers forecast to retire by 2025.

As the government’s Nuclear Industrial Strategy (PDF 1.6 MB) states: “When coupled with the scale of industry’s new build ambitions and the length of time since the last new build project in the UK, it is clear that action must be taken now to identify current and future skills gaps and address these.”

Training & Development

The focus on safety and security is of paramount importance across the breadth of the nuclear industry. Therefore a key pre-requisite for any successful nuclear programme is first class education and training. It is encouraging that in some areas, plans are being developed to invest in further education, but it is not likely to be sufficient for the needs of the programmes of work or major projects expected.

...it is clear that action must be taken now to identify current and future skills gaps and address these.

Significant investment in training and development to ensure we produce Suitably Qualified and Experienced Persons (SQEP) is vital to achieving the industry’s nuclear ambitions. Leadership teams have a responsibility to be involved and to support all phases of this process in order to achieve quality training for their workforce. Owner organisations need to do their part too; partnering on a longer term basis with companies that will invest in their staff and accepting the need to pay a premium to ensure a future supply of SQEP individuals, is just as vital to the process.

This investment needs to continue post training too. Evaluations to ensure knowledge and skills have been transferred to the workplace, as well as performance reviews, establishes a solid foundation for continuous improvement.

Succession Planning

For any long term nuclear commission, whether a significant one-off construction project or through a framework agreement, it’s important to accept that clients won’t benefit from having services delivered predominantly by the same individuals; an element of churn needs to be planned, especially as the current nuclear workforce is aging.

Promotion of resource to levels more senior, together with introducing new resource into the team from other sectors, will contribute to continuous improvement in service delivery, provide a mechanism through which wider industry best practice can be applied and help to plug the future skills gap.

Transferable Skills

One of the strengths of the nuclear industry is its ability to train staff to a high standard, regardless of previous experience and position. Due to the safe, secure and specialist nature of nuclear, developing people into these highly-skilled and high-tech roles is a focus of the industry, and is incredibly attractive from a personal development perspective.

To tackle the future skills gap the industry is facing, clients should be thinking more creatively, rather than just looking at other highly regulated industries to attract fresh blood. Finding transferable skills in other industries, such as problem-solving and technically demanding roles, are suitable for the challenges faced within this sector.

It is also important to recognise that transferable skills work the other way too. In our experience, capital investment plans within portfolios of work are not unique to the nuclear sector, either in type or function. The introduction of professionals at all levels brings other sector best practice and innovation to the projects. To this extent, the new build programme offers an excellent grounding for all construction professionals to be engaged with a vast range of projects, gaining vital expertise that is transferable into other sectors and territories.

In Summary

The industry needs to be supported by an agile workforce with the skills, competency and capacity required to successfully deliver current and future UK new nuclear programmes with the highest standards of nuclear professionalism, safety and security. To do this, companies need to step up to the challenge and invest in their people, sooner rather than later, if they want a slice of this world-changing market.

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