Worldwide spending on nuclear power is expected to reach an unprecedented £930billion over the next 20 years. No other continent is investing as much in nuclear energy generation as Asia, as its fast-growing economies drive demand for electricity. The second main driver in the renewal of support for nuclear power is the concerted shift away from fossil fuels such as coal as the world embraces low- carbon energy sources.

China is leading the way in the growth of nuclear power, as its electricity demand is growing by more than 8% per year. China reported eight new nuclear grid connections in 2015, and five more in 2016 and it currently has 20 nuclear reactors under construction. It plans to build at least a further 40 reactors in future years.

Nuclear power suppliers across Asia need to start making plans to ensure they have sufficient expertise and capacity to meet these build programmes and overcome the industry’s growing skills shortage.

Nuclear recruitment currently accounts for about a fifth of all our new business enquiries across Asia. Once China and other countries start seriously increasing investment in nuclear NES Global Talent expects to see 5% year-on-year growth in salaries, as the demand for skilled workers grows. Meeting this challenge of growth can be a painful process for businesses.

To prepare for future growth and minimise the problems caused by skills shortages businesses must create effective talent pool plans and develop a pipeline of talent. To do so they have to map out their investment and expansion plans over the coming years and take a close look at the existing skill set within their business to identify the gaps that will have to be filled.

Auditing your current workforce helps firms to identify where the gaps are in their expertise, when these gaps will need addressing and where to prioritise investment in training and recruitment.

The timing of recruitment is particularly important when work pipelines are uncertain. Recruiting too many candidates too fast makes absorbing them difficult and they can weaken an organisation’s culture if the process is not handled well. Recruiting candidates too late risks overstretching the existing workforce and missing out on the most talented new workers. Timing can be particularly important for industry roles such as plant operations and high-spec technical roles like welding (which can require at least ten years of training).

Creating a schedule of phased recruitment helps a business to maximise employee engagement and retention, and reduce costs.

Businesses operating in countries that are investing in nuclear, and where skills shortages are expected, have two main options to consider widening their talent pool:

  • look outside their existing industry to train up workers with transferable skills,
  • look outside their own country to bring in talented workers from abroad.

A multi-national nuclear power company operating in China recently appointed NES Global Talent to bring in 30 designers and engineers to meet its expansion plans.

There is a severe shortage of candidates available in China, so we worked with the client to find local candidates with similar skills, backgrounds and transferable skills learned in complementary industries. High- quality staff in the electrical and mechanical design and engineering industries received training on design and operation of nuclear sites.

If looking overseas to recruit talented nuclear engineers, businesses would be well advised to look at Japanese and Korean nationals, especially with Japan taking a step back in developing new nuclear plants. The supply of workers is higher.

However, Asian businesses are considering using western nuclear technology. Any businesses going down this route should look to draft in more western staff. The USA, UK and French are most prized for their nuclear expertise and there will be an opportunity to hire German workers after the country stops operating its nuclear fleet.

With increased investment in nuclear power expected to continue in Asia for another two decades at least and more
than 170 countries having signed The Paris Agreement to decarbonise their economies, talent pool planning will help nuclear power businesses to plan for the anticipated skills shortages.

We encourage our partners to create long- term talent pool plans so they can acquire the expertise they need over time and then turn towards contractors to fill short-term gaps in order to minimise spending on recruitment.

As Asia enters a new golden age of investment in nuclear, businesses need to plan, design and build up their talent pools just as skilfully as their workers build the next generation of nuclear plants. 

Thomas Farrelly is regional director for North Asia at NES Global Talent