THE NUCLEAR INDUSTRY IN THE UK has an ageing demographic profile. Around a fifth of people in today’s workforce will pass their 65th birthday in the next 10 years. This was typically UK retirement age, so up to 1580 full time positions may want to retire each year. Nuclear companies will have to manage knowledge and plan succession effectively as skilled people retire.

Effective knowledge management is even more important because the industry will have increasing staff numbers over the next few years. According to the 2017 Nuclear Workforce Assessment report, issued by the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group (NSSG), the nuclear industry in the UK will have to increase the flow of people into the sector from around 3000 per annum (retirees and other leavers) to nearly 7000 in the next five to six years. Around 18% of these new recruits will need significant nuclear knowledge, and 1% will need to be at a subject matter expert level.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) states the issue clearly: “Whether or not nuclear power witnesses an expansion in the coming decades, it is essential that we preserve nuclear scientific and technical competence for the safe operation and decommissioning of existing facilities and applications. Effective management of nuclear knowledge should include succession planning for the nuclear workforce, the maintenance of the ‘nuclear safety case’ for operational reactors, and retention of the nuclear knowledge”.

In 2016 the UK’s National Skills Academy for Nuclear (NSAN) carried out a survey of its employer members with regard to skills issues and challenges. Improving knowledge retention and managing knowledge assets came in the top five identified needs. On this basis, NSAN has forged a partnership with Cambridge-based Knowledge Associates to offer knowledge capture and transfer, and management training and consultancy to support the nuclear industry.

Effective knowledge management is about how organisations identify critical people and roles and develop processes and techniques to store and transfer critical knowledge and expertise, between old and new employees, sites, departments and teams. It is also important to plan in the time needed to develop people to be ‘suitably qualified and experienced personnel’ (SQEP) or to reach the level of subject matter expert.

Many organisations have started to implement knowledge management practices that preserve knowledge like any other company asset. They are looking at ways they can develop the knowledge of their employees, retain the knowledge, share it, adapt it and apply it. That way staff in all locations, and of all ages, can use, and make decisions based on, the experience of the past.

By managing the knowledge contained within an organisation, businesses often improve workforce skills and save money.

The methodology behind how organisations operate their knowledge management processes depends on what works for them. There are many different options available for organisations depending on cost and time pressures. The ISO 30401 Knowledge management systems standard was recently approved and it provides organisations with guidelines for establishing, implementing, maintaining, reviewing and improving an effective system for knowledge management. All the requirements of this international standard are applicable to any organisation, regardless of its type or size. 

The standard sets out guiding principles for organisations and acknowledges that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to the effective management of knowledge. Organisations have to consider what are the critical knowledge assets, plan a strategy to meet business objectives, decide what knowledge management platform to use and consider how to evaluate the effectiveness of the processes implemented.

Ron Young, the CEO of Knowledge Associates says that it is no longer good enough to tolerate mediocre ways to manage time, tasks, information, knowledge and critical assets.

“The importance of formulating the right knowledge strategy and being able to deliver it at speed continues to grow. External changes are outpacing the ability of organisations to innovate quickly enough to keep pace. Responding effectively to these challenges, combined with the critical need to get the best value from both tangible and intangible assets, is difficult for many organisations.”

He says that there are new and better options for knowledge and innovation management and high knowledge productivity.

The collaboration between NSAN and Knowledge Associates provides nuclear companies with consultancy support to identify, manage, develop and apply knowledge management strategies, aligned with their business requirements.

Through this partnership a number of training courses have been developed to help nuclear companies embed a systematic approach to knowledge management across levels of the business. These interactive courses include one on the main principles of knowledge management with an introduction to the new ISO knowledge management standard, constructed for anyone working in the nuclear sector and its supply chain.

There are also courses that can be delivered in-house for senior management, and executives.