Mapping the skills gaps

22 October 2013

David Whitmore, engineering & technical director at Atkins, has developed a new competency management process and tool that has won industry-wide recognition.

Skills, resource and knowledge are amongst the biggest challenges that the UK nuclear industry is faced with across all sectors. The parallel demands from decommissioning, generation, fuel processing and military programmes means that the demand for skills at all levels over the next 15 years is one of the key risks to achieving these programmes.

This has been recognised centrally and the UK government has sponsored collaborative programmes to assess and stimulate UK supply to these markets that have been created. Industry has taken up the challenge and has developed additional tools and processes to help close this gap and resolve their internal needs. UK engineering consultancy Atkins has taken a lead in this area.

Skills demand

Cogent, the UK's Sector Skills Council for the nuclear industry, has undertaken research to establish the current state of skills in the industry and to model the future skills requirements.

Results show that the civil nuclear industry today provides employment for 44,000 people. Of these, 24,000 are employed directly by the nuclear operators across three sectors - electricity generation, decommissioning, and fuel processing. The remainder are employed in the direct supply chain to the nuclear industry.

The skill levels of the workforce are high, as would be expected for a safety-critical industry. The combined technical, professional and senior management skill levels are typically close to, or in excess of, 70% in any of the sectors.

The age profile is the main factor in driving a general skills gap of up to 14,000 by 2025. This converts to an industry requirement of the order of 1000 new recruits per year, mainly as new apprentices and graduates. However, the new build driver of demand will draw in experienced personnel from related industry sectors and possibly globally.

In addition to the demand for skills to support the operations of nuclear facilities, there is the need for a skilled consultancy sector to support the operating companies and new-build developers.

This is driven by two factors: firstly the extent of the new build programme and secondly the supply chain strategies adopted by the operating companies and developers. Over the last ten years there has been a trend in the UK for nuclear operators to adopt a more inclusive approach to partnering with strategic suppliers in the technical arena.

A number of commercial approaches have been adopted, including outsourcing, strategic alliances and design and build contracts for construction of new facilities. This has created a current demand for approximately 3000 engineers in the UK consultancy sector, and is expected to rise to 3500 as the Tier 1 companies reach full outsourcing capacity.

The replacement-generating scenario for 12 GWe of nuclear capacity by 2030 is likely to create an additional peak demand around 2016 of approximately 2500 engineers. This requires the consultancy sector to provide approximately 6000 engineers into the nuclear sector. The skill levels of these workers will be high, generally graduate, professional engineers.

National strategy

In recognition of the need to adopt a national approach to addressing the skills gaps in the nuclear industry the UK government launched an employer-led National Skills Academy for Nuclear (referred to as the Skills Academy) in January 2008. The Skills Academy works with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to improve provision of science, technical, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education from school right through to higher-level post-graduate qualifications.

A key concept of the Skills Academy provision is that skills and training are recorded on a Skills Passport that is common to all employers and is accepted by them, enabling a greater flexibility of resource across the sectors and individual employers.

This is particularly important for the supply chain, enabling suppliers in critical skills to demonstrate their capability to customers when they have not previously worked for them before. Essentially this is creating a nationally-recognised record of Suitably Qualified and Experienced Persons (SQEP).

This will create a more mobile workforce enabling the UK to get maximum effectiveness out of its limited resources. Some interest has already been expressed at the European Nuclear Education Network (ENEN) and other forums about this concept being rolled out on a pan-European basis.

Atkins Training Academy

In 2006 the Atkins Training Academy (ATA) was launched in response to the perceived skills gap (subsequently confirmed by the Cogent study).

The purpose of the ATA was to provide fast-track training for new graduates and the ability for staff in other industrial sectors to re-train and learn skills relevant to the nuclear sector. A market assessment was carried out to identify the key skills required to support the nuclear industry. This identified 48 skills in 10 subject areas. To cover this demand, 13 in-house courses were developed and 16 existing external courses were identified.

Courses offered
  • Introduction to the Nuclear Industry
  • Nuclear Safety Case
  • Engineering Substantiation
  • Understanding Nuclear Safety Culture
  • Radiological Protection Pathway
  • Introduction to Nuclear Physics
  • Nuclear Conversion Course
  • Decommissioning and Radioactive Waste Management
  • Introduction to Contaminated Land
  • New Generation Reactor Technology
  • AGR Familiarisation
  • Fissile Materials - Systems and Processes
  • Control & Instrumentation in the Nuclear Industry

To date more than 550 engineers have used the ATA to develop their nuclear skills. Many of these are engineers from Atkins' businesses outside the nuclear sector but with related skills, such as building service engineers from the design industry, systems engineers from defence and stress engineers from oil and gas.

This ability to access relatively large numbers of engineers with the relevant technical skills and develop them into capable nuclear engineers is considered to be a significant source of SQEP staff to support the ambitious demands of the UK nuclear industry over the next few years.

Training needs

In order to understand its complete training requirements Atkins has developed a new software application called MySkills, which enables people to create a personal job profile (or load a standard job context - for example the Cogent nuclear safety engineer job context) and assess their current level of competence so that their training needs can be identified.

The training needs of all staff are then added together to create a corporate training needs analysis, which is compared to the future capability model. One of the outputs from this assessment process is the identification of technical learning needs within the business. In turn, this enables the review of the existing academy curriculum and the development of new courses by the academy to be closely aligned to business and client requirements.

MySkills is a bespoke .NET application that enables the user to select all skills, knowledge and attributes they have from a skills menu, irrespective of whether they need to utilise these competencies in their current role. This is a significant improvement over most human performance-based competence models that only require assessment against the skills required for a specific role.

In practice, the user is presented with a skills menu, which develops level by level. First the user would select a discipline relevant to their skills profile, for example 'Mechanical Engineering.' From the next menu they would select the subjects relevant to them, for example 'Materials,' and the skills associated with that subject will be loaded into the user profile. Users carry out self-assessment by scoring themselves against each skill in their profile. They also need to fill in an evidence field, which provides a basis for judging the competence level of the employee in a particular skill.

This individual assessment enables the creation of a database of all skills possessed by the company and facilitates the ability to search for people with particular combinations of skills.

The individual's MySkills assessment is 'blind' reviewed by the individual's line manager or other nominated person. These people then agree the competence scores in an appraisal-style discussion. Finally the agreed scores are accepted or moderated by the person who acts as the heads of the relevant disciplines the individual has claimed competency in. This results in a high-quality debate between individual and line manager leading to a better joint understanding of the individual's competence. The final scores are also peer-reviewed and suitable for use in Nuclear SQEP assessments. In order to ensure common benchmarking, heads of discipline are presented with a skills league table, and can check that the order of people is consistent with their view of the discipline.

The MySkills output is then used in three ways. First, any gaps an individual has between their competence scores and that required for the role and future development can be discussed, and suitable development identified (including selection from a built-in list of ATA and other training solutions). Second, the database can be searched by people looking to resource projects or to looking for advice on a particular topic. Finally, the summation data is compared to the future capability model to identify any organisational capability gaps that need to be addressed in the future resourcing strategy.

The future capability model is a forward forecast of skills required to meet (in this case) Atkins' ambition to share in the 6000 engineering consultants opportunity described earlier. A strategic model of the future 'pipeline' is derived based on the known opportunities. These prospects are then broken down into resource models using the same skill sets contained in the MySkills database. The future capability model is then compared to the current skills available from MySkills.

The time-based gap then guides the resourcing strategy for the business. No bespoke software is required for this as the future capability model is developed and analysed using some of the more advanced features of Microsoft Project. The future capability model and MySkills outputs are then combined in an Excel spreadsheet to derive the time-based skills gap.

Associated training delivery can then be planned using the ATA, the Atkins [email protected] and commercially-available training.

[email protected]

Atkins has formed a delivery partnership with the University of Central Lancashire (UClan) called the Atkins [email protected] to make this training available to the UK sector in general. It is a modular programme and can be used by students as part of a certificate, diploma or masters programme. If desired a single module can be undertaken to support continued professional development.

This partnership will build upon both partners' curricula creating a set of UClan accredited- and Skills Academy-endorsed qualifications available to UK and international students.

This offering will be aligned to the higher education skills development strategy outlined by the National Skills Academy for Nuclear and be compatible with the industry-wide Nuclear Skills Passport scheme.

Global offerings

Atkins has joined forces with Assystem to form the n.triple.a joint venture to address the global demand for nuclear new build. Together Atkins and Assystem can offer 3000 qualified nuclear engineers with a track record of delivery in the nuclear sector. Assystem has considerable experience of designing and delivering training programmes to utilities and developers in France and globally.

Like Atkins, Assystem has also developed an internal training capability called the Assystem Nuclear Institute (ANI), which has been developed using the knowledge gained from its external training programmes. Working in conjunction with the Skills Academy, n.triple.a can also offer the training framework, skills passport, accreditation processes and tools developed in the UK.


David Whitmore, Engineering & Technical Director at Atkins is the winner of the Cogent SSC Award for Outstanding Leadership in Nuclear Skills. He is also on the judging panel for NEI magazine's nuclear training awards 2013 - winners to be annouced shortly.


David Whitmore, receiving the 2013 Cogent SSC Award for Outstanding Leadership in Nuclear Skills with EDF Energy’s Barbara Jones and awards host Ben Fogle (right).

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