From STEM to STEAM: Re-defining the skills landscape

24 November 2022

Scouring the standard recruitment pools for engineers will not be sufficient to meet the recruitment needs for a new generation of SMR development, argues Adam Ellis, Talent and HR Director at Rolls Royce SMR.

Above: Rolls Royce SMR is looking to recruit hundreds of new engineers to support their ambitious plans

One of the burning questions in the nuclear industry is how the sector can access the skills it needs now and in the future. A focus on STEM in education is a step in the right direction, but waiting for a new generation of skills to complete their studies is only part of the answer.

At a recent APSCo (Association of Professional Staffing Companies) event co-chaired by the company’s recruitment partner, RPO1 powered by Morson Group, delegates heard how Rolls-Royce SMR will work collaboratively with Morson to identify and attract candidates to both the SMR project, and the nuclear sector more generally.

Rolls-Royce SMR plans to build up to six modular nuclear reactors a year from 2023 onwards but STEM will continue to be an incomplete answer. What the industry needs is not just STEM but STEAM but what does that mean? In a nutshell, people strategies for the nuclear sector need the creativity that comes from studying arts subjects – the A in STEAM – alongside science, technology, engineering and maths disciplines.

This new acronym is indicative of a creative approach to the whole business of recruitment, skills and people strategy at Rolls Royce SMR. With Morson’s help, Rolls-Royce SMR has already recruited the talent it needs to fill 400 new roles since the project was launched less than a year ago. The company aims to fill a further 400 roles before the end of the year as Rolls Royce gears up to start working on its first orders in 2023.

How will candidates be attracted to both the SMR project and the nuclear sector more generally? We have to highlight the need to think differently about the skills the sector needs and where to find them, particularly in light of the demand on nuclear and engineering skills, and the time it will take to draw down new skills from those still in education. With salaries for sought-after engineering skills already resulting in offers of 10-30% above market rates, it is not sustainable for competing employers to keep fishing in the same dwindling pool for the talent they need.

There are two clear strategies for addressing this issue. Firstly, Rolls Royce SMR is not only engaging young people in high school, further education and higher education but is also working with education providers that will take them beyond the usual milk round of engineering candidates. Rolls Royce SMR is combining training and career opportunities with practical thinking, such as providing accommodation for apprentices. And it is also casting the net beyond conventional STEM talent pools to widen the disciplines involved in pioneering a new era of clean energy generation to arts subjects.

That focus on inspiring candidates to get involved in a new era of clean energy generation is the other key strand of Rolls Royce SMR’s people strategy. By transforming the employee value proposition (EVP) and positioning the SMR sector as an innovative, exciting place in which to build a career, Rolls Royce aims to make nuclear an aspirational sector for both young people and career changers.

The EVP for Rolls-Royce SMR is all about a diversity of roles for all, moving away from a recruitment strategy that targets nuclear skills, to an approach that recruits skills for nuclear. It is a subtle but essential distinction, and one that could help the nuclear industry overcome misconceptions and offer lifelong career paths, rather than project-based roles.

In a sector where we often discuss talent shortages and skills gaps, the strategy is already working for Rolls-Royce SMR and Morson has been tasked with helping the company deliver its commitment to recruiting a diverse workforce by looking beyond traditional talent pools. As a consequence, over the past 12 months, Rolls Royce has achieved a rise from 12% to 24% in female representation, and ethnic minority representation is at 10.3%. Upskilling, re-skilling, multi-skilling and career progression are all part of attracting this diverse talent to the sector and it will be interesting to see how much power there is in STEAM.

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