Nuclear Energy Skills Renaissance

Kevin McNealey
Nuclear new build success relies on increased capacity and skills across the industry. Encouraging STEM subject uptake in schools and universities could play a major part. Will STEM graduates see the light?

The new nuclear power stations programme is one of Europe's biggest anticipated construction investments. For the UK, this represents a huge opportunity for jobs, economic activity, and a much needed legacy in infrastructure and skills.

The Government is optimistic that UK industry has the capability and capacity to deliver nuclear new build over the next 15 to 20 years, while supporting the existing operational nuclear stations and executing the ongoing decommissioning programme.

New build delivery, however, creates a challenge to all parties, especially in the realm of skilled resource. No new nuclear facilities have been built in the UK since the early 1990s and there are ongoing skills losses due to current high retirement rates. Competing demands from other sectors exacerbate the resource shortage as the economy improves.

Attracting a new generation of high-calibre energy professionals into nuclear will rely heavily on the availability and retention of these graduates.

Like most countries, the UK needs to produce more graduates in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. Attracting a new generation of high-calibre energy professionals into nuclear will rely heavily on the availability and retention of these graduates. Women remain especially under-represented on these courses and on associated career paths, and turning this around is a priority for STEM providers and policymakers. Government subsidy of tuition fees for priority university courses would help augment the limited commercial sponsorship available to students.

Industry initiatives are under way to encourage STEM uptake in schools and universities. As part of the Atkins Group, Faithful+Gould is committed to promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics to young people to help them become the project managers, cost and commercial managers, planners and other technical professionals of the future. We work with schools, colleges and universities to encourage and deliver STEM initiatives in the UK and around our global regions.

The Group is currently enhancing the co-ordination of our STEM programme, further integrating it into graduate development, producing Atkins-wide STEM content and presentations, and promoting STEM-related work experience programmes.

The UK new build programme is taking place in parallel with global expansion of nuclear generation and this should create opportunities for the UK supply chain.

Our projects in the nuclear sector should provide suitable experience for growing numbers of young people on our graduate development programme, equipping them for future leadership roles. They will acquire transferable skills that can be utilised throughout the wider energy arena. We currently have graduates working in project and cost management roles on major nuclear projects across the UK, including the new build project at Hinkley Point C.

Keeping new entrants motivated in the sector is important, for both consultancy and client organisations. In built environment consultancy, some young professionals have traditionally viewed infrastructure as less glamorous than property, and opted for a property-based career path.

The infrastructure image is hopefully now changing, with so many dynamic megaprojects now coming to market. However, the nuclear sector will need structured training and career progression if its entrants are to be retained. The UK new build programme is taking place in parallel with global expansion of nuclear generation and this should create opportunities for the UK supply chain.

Re-skilling of the existing workforce should also play a prominent part in the nuclear renaissance. 

Re-skilling of the existing workforce should also play a prominent part in the nuclear renaissance. The new build programme offers an excellent grounding for all construction professionals to be engaged with a vast range of projects. In return, the introduction of more diverse expertise at all levels brings other sectors' best practice and innovation to the projects.

As a business, we have successfully transferred global technical and commercial expertise garnered from the upstream oil and gas, transmission and distribution, offshore and subsea sectors, into the new build nuclear energy and renewables markets.

Together with Atkins, Faithful+Gould has a detailed understanding of the commercial, technical and political pressures facing the nuclear energy market - regulatory scrutiny, price volatility, consumer expectations and political sensitivities. Our project management and commercial services leadership underpins our clients' goals on challenging projects in Europe, the Americas and the Middle East.

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