Rejuvenating a workforce

28 July 2004

Many industries and governments are facing the challenges of losing the wealth of knowledge and skills held by their experienced staff to retirement. Canadian regulators are addressing the situation. By Amy Moore and Peter Gilmour

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is the Canadian federal regulation agency. The organisation has a staff of over 500, mostly located at headquarters in Ottawa, but also in offices at each of the five nuclear power plants and four regional offices across Canada.

The CNSC is facing the challenge of rejuvenating its workforce due to an expected increase in retirements over the next five years. The CNSC is working to attract and retain excellent staff to ensure that its mandate is carried out effectively and efficiently. Historically, the CNSC only recruited experienced people from elsewhere within the nuclear industry; however, the industry in general is facing similar challenges, resulting in a shrinking pool of experienced staff from which to draw.

In a departure from its traditional hiring practices, the CNSC created an entry-level programme for graduating engineers and scientists recruited directly from Canadian universities. The purpose of the intern programme is to provide these individuals with the knowledge and skills required to become regulators.

The development of the programme began in early 2000 with a proposal to the CNSC’s executive committee. The proposal explained how the programme would be developed and administered, and addressed issues such as programme cost, recruiting strategy, roles and responsibilities, learning strategy, programme evaluation and placement strategy.

In order for a programme of this magnitude to function, both financial and human resources were needed. The executive committee approved the programme in January 2001 and the first group of interns was scheduled to begin working six months later.

The CNSC’s human resources directorate conducted interviews at six universities across Canada, and candidates were selected according to set criteria. These included:

• Scholastic achievement in an engineering or science programme.

• A variety of previous experience, including work, volunteering, interests and hobbies.

• Good communication and interpersonal skills.

• An interest in the CNSC’s regulatory work.

• A willingness to relocate.

It was stressed to interviewees that previous nuclear experience was not required. Of the initial eight interns hired, only one had previous, but limited, experience in the nuclear industry.

Individuals within the CNSC were given responsibility for different aspects of the programme:

• A project authority is the principal client for the programme.

• A programme manager who supervises the day-to-day requirements of the programme, oversees the training and travel budget, develops the training strategy and curriculum, negotiates with divisions to determine the specific learning objectives for the interns while on work assignments, supervises the interns, and prepares monthly and annual reports on the progress of the programme.

At the end of the original two-year programme, the CNSC conducted a programme evaluation and determined that its length could be reduced to 18 months without degrading its content. The current programme is now an 18-month structured training programme consisting of six three-month work assignments in various line divisions within the CNSC.

The first month is very intensive. During this period, the interns complete all the administrative requirements for new employees, tour a nuclear power plant, receive training on the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and associated regulations, radiation protection and Candu fundamentals, and prepare for their first of six work terms. Each work assignment combines technical and non-technical courses, projects and work objectives assigned by the division in which the intern is working. Different methods such as lectures, computer-based training and practical applications are used to deliver the formal training.

There are 25 divisions within the CNSC where the interns have an opportunity to work. Over the 18-month period, it is not possible for the interns to work in each division; however, measures are taken to provide them with a broad range of experience, while also focusing on the interns’ interests and strengths. Some of the divisions in which they may be placed include:

• Uranium mines and lands evaluation.

• Research facilities.

• Wastes and geosciences.

• Environmental protection and audit.

• Packaging and transport licensing.

• Physics and fuel.

• Plant thermalhydraulics.

• Human performance.

• Radiation protection and environmental compliance.

Before an intern is placed within a division, the division must clearly demonstrate that there is viable work for them by setting out clearly defined objectives. The programme manager meets with the divisional contact to develop a list of work objectives for the interns to complete. The objectives are accompanied by a list of associated activities and assessment methods. Outlining the objectives prior to the work term ensures that the interns will gain a broad range of experience from each work assignment. The number of objectives can vary by division, but is generally three to five. The objectives must be achievable within a three-month period and must be manageable for an entry-level employee. It is important that the objectives contribute to the responsibilities and goals of the divisions involved.

An important part of the intern programme is the practical training the interns receive at a nuclear power plant. While on site for two months, they learn about the day-to-day workings of a site office, and also participate in and help to design inspections. Immediately following the time spent at the plant, the interns are placed within the CNSC’s directorate of assessment and analysis. This is one of the more technical work assignments, since this directorate specialises in safety and engineering assessments for nuclear reactors.

Within each work term, there is time assigned solely for the purpose of formal training and group activities. The time is spent attending training courses, and making presentations to peers and supervisors on completed work placements, as well as any projects in which they may have been involved.

Both non-technical and technical training are provided throughout the programme. Non-technical training focuses on communication skills as well as areas such as negotiation skills, teamwork, conflict resolution, and time and self-management.

The technical training covers science and engineering, as well as other nuclear-related requirements that are needed to work competently in the industry and help carry out the responsibilities of the CNSC. Some of the courses offered include training on the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and associated regulations, radiation protection, radiation instruments, Candu fundamentals, Candu systems thermodynamics, contamination control, and audit and evaluation.

At some point during the programme, each intern attends one international conference. The interns are provided with a list of available conferences and can select one that interests them. In order to attend, they must submit a proposal to the programme manager outlining what the conference has to offer and why it would be beneficial for them to attend. Depending on the nature of the conference, the intern may also be asked to represent the CNSC by presenting a paper at the conference.

The CNSC uses evaluations to assess the interns’ work terms and formal training. At the end of each work term, the supervisor from the receiving division and the intern are both required to complete an evaluation. The purpose is to ensure that both parties concur on the effectiveness and results of the work term. If any major differences are found, the programme manager will interview both individuals to determine the cause.

The process of determining where each intern will be placed on a permanent basis begins approximately six months prior to completion of the programme. The operational requirements of the organisation, management’s input, the interns’ assessment reports and the interns’ personal aspirations are all considered in their placements.

The intern programme has been beneficial to both the CNSC and the interns. In exchange for considering a career with the nuclear regulator, the CNSC is providing young graduates with the knowledge, skills and attributes needed to function successfully as future project officers or inspectors in the industry.

In today’s marketplace, it is important for employers to focus on what the best and brightest are looking for in a career. A good employer provides training opportunities and helps employees fulfil their potential. A company that provides a positive work culture, competent people within an organisation, a role that meets personal needs and future opportunities are all qualities that are sought by employees. The CNSC has been successful in providing the interns with a good balance of all of these qualities.

From a training perspective, the intern programme has provided the CNSC with an opportunity to transfer knowledge from experienced to less experienced staff, ensuring that corporate knowledge is retained as individuals retire or leave the organisation. The programme also produces versatile employees who have a global view and understanding of the organisation.

The technical training programme, originally designed for the interns, has also benefited both junior and intermediate staff at the CNSC, and the long-term training schedule benefits the entire organisation. Having a core group of ‘employees in training’ warrants the delivery of this unique training to other CNSC staff as well, when attendance levels may not have otherwise justified its delivery.

The programme was successful in encouraging young graduates in science and engineering to consider a career working for Canada’s nuclear regulator. While some of the interns may decide to leave the CNSC, they can be confident that they will have gained excellent safety and regulatory knowledge. This also supports what the CNSC is striving for, which is a safe nuclear industry.

Although the training is extensive and the work terms are challenging, all the individuals who have participated in the intern programme over the last three years feel that the programme provides excellent experience. This is best summed up by the comments of an intern from the original two-year programme who said: “Having spent only two years in an industry that was completely new to me, I now feel competent to complete work assigned, and confident in the work I do. This is solely due to the integration of training courses, practical experiences, interaction with the staff of the CNSC and the exposure to the many different work roles, projects and the competence of employees.”

On a more personal note: as a current intern who came to the CNSC with no experience in the nuclear industry, the thought of working in such a technical and specialised field was intimidating. Overall, one could say that the partnership between the CNSC and me is one of mutual trust and faith. In order for me to be successful, it was essential that the CNSC provide me with the opportunities to gain the necessary skills and knowledge I would need to be an effective employee within the organisation. From there, it became my responsibility to become that effective employee. The intern programme has been a successful bridge in providing me with a smooth transition from university to my professional career.

Author Info:

Amy Moore and Peter Gilmour, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, 280 Slater Street, P.O. Box 1046, Ottawa, Ontario, K1P 5S9, Canada

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