Some of us are born technically-minded. Others are more creative, naturally good at building things or managing people. Education and training can help us make the best of our natural talents, improve on areas that we are not so good at, and to learn completely new skills.
The nuclear industry uses education not only to shape the new recruits -- who are needed in their thousands, just to replace retirees -- but also to maintain the current standards among the working professionals. Training never ends.
There is no denying that young people represent the future of the nuclear industry. However, the industry needs experienced personnel as well; regulators; inspectors; project managers, expert communicators, highly-skilled engineers and technicians, and so on. Many nuclear skills are transferable from other sectors.
One perhaps underappreciated, but high-volume, area of training, introduces experienced workers to the industry, its unique demands for nuclear safety culture, and so on. Take construction. Up to 3000 workers are needed to build a new nuclear power station. Of these, the vast majority will require no nuclear- specific skills. But it is well known from past experience that those with 'nuclear awareness' provide better-quality work. When building a nuclear power plant the plans/specifications have to be followed to the letter. We have witnessed what can happen otherwise -- with concrete and welding issues at Flamanville 3 in France, and more recently with changes to the rebar specifications at Vogtle in the USA -- delays and cost overruns. (We are not saying that staff on these sites have not been properly trained; just that the stakes are high, and nuclear requirements are challenging).
Introductions to the industry are just one type of the vast sector of education and training in the nuclear industry that spans apprenticeships, classroom work and on-the-job updates. Becoming a 'suitably qualified and experienced person' -- to use the UK lingo -- could be seen as mastering all the hundreds of little, but essential tasks involved in your job: how to read a gauge; how to visualize two-phase flow through BWR fuel assemblies; the best way to remove your coveralls without falling over.
But education and training is not just about what we learn. It is also about the environment that we learn in and how we are taught. Looking back, we all have that one special teacher, mentor, or colleague that educated, inspired and ultimately helped us to get to where we are today. (WD: Alerta Angeles, geometry; Hilda Forestieri, chemistry, Wilson High School, Washington DC; CP: Jane Baker, physics, Brighton & Hove High School, UK).
If we are what we eat, then we think what we have learned. This magazine's nuclear training awards, which is now accepting entries, aims to recognize excellence in nuclear training and education, in all forms (academic, vocational, workplace) and in all parts of the industry.
We hope that you will consider entering our awards; maybe you will even consider nominating the course of your favourite teacher. Entry is free; the deadline is 16 September.
Click here for more information on NEI magazine's Nuclear Training Awards 2013