Skills gap

People power

1 April 2009

Two new programmes are taking on the skills shortage by training the next generation of workers at both ends of the industry. By Will Dalrymple

To connect all the pipes in the 10 or so nuclear power plants that Westinghouse Electric Company has contracted for recently, the company could need as many as 20,000 new welders by 2012, says Richard Frisbey, general manager of subsidiary the WEC Welding Institute.

Westinghouse Electric Company acquired the institute when it bought Carolina Energy Solutions in 2007. It has since expanded its existing training centre. Now, its Rock Hill, South Carolina location has 77 welding booths, and WEC is opening a 48-booth centre in Chattanooga, Tennessee in April. WEC is planning to expand the number of shifts at each training institute, and to roll out more institutes – as many as six over the next two years – near the intended plant locations.

The programme recruits teenagers from local high schools and puts them on a three- to six-month course, depending on the student. It culminates in an American Society of Mechanical Engineers welding certification examination. Applicants are drug-tested and security screened. Once they finish, ex-students are obligated to stay with the company for 2000 hours.

He estimates that it takes about three years for a welder to progress to the top of the field. “We are looking for skilled craftsmen who can lay a weld bead down that is essentially defect-free. Every time there is a defect, it costs us money. The goal is to teach them to weld, and to set the weld parameters correctly.”

A sister company to Carolina Energy Solutions within WEC Welding and Machining is PCI Energy Services, which also offers utility welding and machining services. While Carolina Energy Solutions is non-union, PCI uses exclusively unionised labour. Unions such as the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the US & Canada train apprentices in 400 union halls across North America.

Meanwhile, three new courses in Europe aim to train up a different kind of nuclear worker. A new UK degree programme promises to train up students not only in engineering, but also in business. “A PhD could end up as a book on a shelf,” says Andy Clarke, manager of nuclear postgraduate programmes at the Dalton Nuclear Institute, University of Manchester. “An EngD involves an actual problem that industry has, and their work will be used by that organisation.”

Over the four-year course, these students aim to solve a real-life problem. Problems are put forward by companies and vetted by an independent review panel (two academics, one industry representative). The course has been built to provide expertise in six themes: reactor technology, decommissioning, waste management, materials, safety systems and the socioeconomic aspects of nuclear power.

PhD-level research accounts for three years of the course. But there is another aspect to the degree. In order to provide a useful solution to the company, the students need to understand how their chosen company works. So for one year, students take lessons in quality control systems, new product innovation, finance and management, that on their own qualify the student for a diploma in enterprise management.

The first group of 10 EngD students are now in their third year, although the University of Manchester (UK), which leads the programme with Imperial College, London, has operated a manufacturing EngD degree since 1992.

In September 2009, France's Burgundy Nuclear Partnership will open a new English-language ‘executive education programme’ aimed at engineers and managers with three or so years of working experience. The 1,500-hour programme can be taken part-time over three years, or full time in a single year. Topics include fuel cycle, operations management, new-build and decommissioning & decontamination. The course includes 16-week training courses, three-week tour and, like the World Nuclear University, summer or winter ‘university’ week-long seminars. The Burgundy Nuclear Partnership was established in 2005 and consists of nuclear power plant operators, builders and suppliers, including Burgundy University, Areva and EDF, among many others.

In Germany, Areva NP has signed a contract to found the Areva Nuclear Professional School at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology to provide advanced training for young engineers and scientists. The new school will combine themed courses on nuclear sciences and engineering at the KIT with industrial experience from Areva NP. Students will be able to sign up to two or three-year research and development programmes in areas such as reactor physics, thermohydraulics or materials technology, with the opportunity to go on and study for a doctorate.

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