Nuclear skills: challenges and opportunities – insight from EDF

2 October 2017

Barbara Jones, HR Director, EDF Energy explains how the company’s education, employment and skills initiatives aim to ensure a skilled and diverse workforce for the nuclear new-build.

Barbara Jones is HR Director and Board Member for EDF Energy’s Nuclear New Build Projects. She has responsibility for all aspects of HR as well as leading the development of education, employment and skills initiatives to ensure availability of a skilled workforce for the construction, commissioning and operation of four new nuclear power stations in Somerset and Suffolk.

What are your priorities for training and recruitment over the next 12 months?

One of our main priorities for the next year, and beyond, is looking at increasing the number of female engineers we have within the company. Our apprentice and graduate recruitment programmes play a vital part of that goal.

Research by the Social Market Foundation has highlighted the wealth of opportunities for careers in science and engineering, yet the number of women entering these careers remains low.

EDF Energy recruited five times the national average of women onto its engineering apprenticeship in 2016 (21%). The national average is just 4%.

The company is determined to tackle the current gender imbalance in STEM, and we’re hoping to increase the number of women we recruit onto our STEM apprenticeships to 30% by 2018.

We’ve seen a direct correlation between our activities with schools and at careers fairs targeting secondary school girls, and the number of young women who subsequently apply onto our engineering apprenticeship programme. This is why we’re investing in initiatives such as Pretty Curious. Last year, we hosted more than 1000 12-13-year-old girls at events across the country to give them hands-on STEM experiences and introduce them to female role models working in the industry.

This summer, we are piloting a residential summer school for 15-16-year-old girls to give them an insight into what apprenticeships are like, meet female engineers and also senior people from the business and gain valuable employability skills.

What issues are you facing when it comes to skills and recruitment?

During the apprentice recruitment process, it was noted that potentially suitable technicians would not make the right academic grades and that they needed a separate route to EDF Energy or other companies’ apprentice programmes.
Since 2011, EDF Energy has sponsored the ‘Access to Apprenticeship’ programme at colleges near its sites at Hinkley Point B and Heysham.

The programmes, at Bridgwater and Taunton College and Lancaster and Morecambe College, are aimed at young people without the minimum qualifications to apply for an advanced apprenticeship scheme. 

The course lasts for an academic year and those on the course, around 20 at each college, work towards a BTEC Level 2 qualification in Engineering and Applied Science, which will develop the students’ core engineering skills and knowledge.
The courses also offer regular visits to either Heysham or Hinkley Point power stations. The colleges also invite in guest speakers to give valuable insights into the workings of the industry.

On successful completion of the course, students can enter the aptitude-testing phase of the EDF Energy recruitment process. Many students have now obtained EDF Energy apprenticeships with many others successfully joining other local area engineering companies. 

What initiatives do you have to attract and retain staff?

Retention on the EDF Energy apprenticeship is outstanding; with success rates exceeding 95% each year. Graduating apprentices are offered full-time positions with EDF Energy on successful completion of their apprenticeship with very few exceptions and after that job security is excellent.

There is also an understanding that the apprentice schemes open a route into a potentially wider engineering career. EDF Energy does offer its employees continuous development opportunities to take degree and post graduate courses.

Would you say there is a skills ‘gap’ in the nuclear sector? What opportunities are there to address this?

EDF Energy recognises the need to ensure there are enough trained people to make the step into the engineering and energy sectors.

Apart from the STEM and Pretty Curious campaigns, each of the company’s generation sites has a Visitor Centre, and this allows pupils a chance to see behind the scenes of a power station. The stations will often have science days or careers days for young people, which again ensures the skills message is promoted.

As well as the EDF Energy-sponsored ‘access to engineering courses’, the company has also joined forces with Bridgwater College to launch a Nuclear Scientist Degree Apprenticeship which will address the gap in higher level skills as work starts on our new fleet of UK-based nuclear power stations.

Students are offered practical experience at nuclear sites, and in September 2017 the first year of study will take place at EDF Energy’s training facility at Cannington Court, near Hinkley Point.

Students will be awarded a full Honours Degree with added real, practical workplace skills and the financial security of a regular pay packet.

Also linked to Hinkley Point C, the company has a new commercial apprenticeship programme, where those on the scheme study for five years for a university-level qualification while gaining hands-on experience.

At the end of the apprenticeship, they will move into a permanent role in the commercial team with responsibility for managing their own portfolio of contracts.

Read the full feature with insight from NSAN, Nuvia, Westinghouse and others.

Barbara Jones, HR Director, EDF Energy Barbara Jones, HR Director, EDF Energy
EDF Energy Apprentices on HMS Sultan
STEM outreach is key for EDF Energy

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