Great British Nuclear urgently needs a skills plan to supercharge its talent pipeline26 May 2022
The Government’s Energy Security Strategy is proposing a new approach to the country’s energy sufficiency and security: a shift away from fossil fuels and a focus on renewable energy. By Andy Oldham, Business Unit Director for Defence, Nuclear, Energy & Utilities at Mace
Above: Andy Oldham, Business Unit Director for Defence, Nuclear, Energy & Utilities at Mace
According to the plans, we could see up to eight new nuclear reactors delivered, alongside Small Modular Reactors, fusion reactor research and new decommissioning programmes.
But does the UK have the skills pipeline to deliver these programmes?
It is estimated that more than 100,000 new jobs will be required in the nuclear energy industry by 2030.
That’s almost double the current workforce of 61,000.
The Engineering Construction Industry Training Board’s (ECITB) latest Workforce Census found that the industry “could struggle to meet future levels of demand because of struggles to fill shortages left by those retiring”, with 39% over 50, and just 15% under 30.
We urgently need to update existing skills plans with an agile, sector-wide skills supply strategy that demonstrates how we are going to deliver upon these goals.
So, how can we support the creation of 100,000 new jobs in less than eight years?
Learning from other sectors – rapid response
Healthcare offers some helpful clues. The NHS has long been reporting a major shortage in staff, but had to navigate through the pandemic while also preparing a vaccine workforce of thousands.
While this has only been a temporary solution, it has demonstrated the potential to pick up the pace on skills. The vaccine taskforce team helped recruit the new vaccinators and volunteers who administered more than 350 million doses.
As with healthcare, the nuclear energy sector has not just one immediate crisis to address, but several. Skills should be given the highest priority to enable us to rise above these challenges, with swift action akin to the vaccine programme but with our sights also set on the longer term.
Establishing a training and recruitment programme
The Barakah Nuclear Power Plant in Abu Dhabi, which officially began commercial operation last year, has made the UAE a nuclear-powered nation in less than a decade. A remarkable achievement for a nation that didn’t even have a nuclear regulator until 2007.
The UAE’s Energy Pioneers Programme has proven hugely successful in training and recruiting highly skilled Emirati nationals to safely manage and operate its fledgling nuclear energy rollout.
Around 60% of its nuclear sector workforce are Emirati nationals. This has been achieved via several strategic partnerships between the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) as well as local and international education and training institutions.
The challenge in the UK is different. But this back to basics, collaborative approach is most effective.
Improving data management
Data management can help spot weak points in training programmes and manage workforce resource, enabling nuclear leadership to make better-informed choices.
Ensuring confidence in data is a responsibility of both industry and Government, whose role in policymaking can help the industry on its drive to standardise data management tools by setting agreed parameters between all parties.
Having a Nuclear Delivery Programme Management Office (PMO) in place could help identify where elements of the workforce could be reskilled and redeployed, driving both jobs creation and net-zero growth.
For too long nuclear has been at the back of the queue for investment and skills have suffered, so we must revisit skills as priority.
The establishment of Great British Nuclear and a commitment to accelerate the delivery of new reactors is welcomed as we strive for a sustainable future.
Now is the time for the industry to pool resources, upskill the workforce, and prepare for a new generation of nuclear aligned to our net zero aspirations.