Over the last few years we have heard about the exciting renaissance of the nuclear industry in the UK: accelerated decommissioning across the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s Estate; new nuclear power plants planned by EDF, Horizon Nuclear Power and NuGen; and the replacement of the Royal Navy’s Trident submarines with the Successor programme. Unfortunately, what all of this activity adds up to is a looming skills gap.
The UK Government reports that an additional 28,000 jobs will be required by 2021. Organisations, understandably, want people who can come in and hit the ground running, however, the group of people that meets that requirement is really quite small. The extent of the projected gap is pushing organisations to make strategic moves such as the UKs Royal Navy offering one-off payments of £24,000 to retain their nuclear specialists.
There is a clear lack of scientists, engineers and technologists with nuclear training and experience required to plug that gap. But, there are hundreds of thousands of skilled people facing redundancies from the oil and gas industry with 70,000 cuts having already been made. Universities are seeing increasing number of students taking up science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) degrees at undergraduate level but a good portion of these are international students posing yet another problem to the UK nuclear industry as most skilled workers are required to be UK nationals on the grounds of national security.
We need to focus on knowledge transfer between generations. By 2025, it is expected that 50% of the workforce in Cumbria will have retired. It is so important that we focus on extracting and retaining the knowledge that they hold from their extensive years of service in the nuclear industry as it grew into what it is today.
The UK government tells us that we are no longer in recession, that the country is in growth. That may be technically true and while the effects of the global recession have been seen for some years, many are just starting to feel the burn. With George Osborne asking for cuts of up to 40% and many private organisations moving to make efficiency savings through further redundancies the outlook looks bleak for many and the effects are still clearly being cascaded.
So, the solution? Invest. With what, I hear you say? Therein lies the problem. Government organisations are stretched, private organisations are worried about the bottom line and just do not have the funds to “nuclearise” non-nuclear skilled workers. Perhaps then, the industry needs to come together to create an industry wide training and development programme that will generate the pool of skilled workers that it needs. Share the cost. Build intensive, on-the-job and theoretical training and development by working together rather than individually. The National Skills Academy for Nuclear is already working on industry collaboration. The NDAs nucleargraduates Programme has proved that industry collaboration works when it comes to skilling the industry’s future workforce. Now it is up to the industry to ensure it collaborates!