Addressing a nationwide skills shortage

The UK nuclear industry is facing a significant challenge in terms of growing and maintaining the skills base of its workforce to effectively deliver the UK nuclear programme.

Industry data shows a need for recruitment in nuclear over the next 20 years
Industry data shows a need for recruitment in nuclear over the next 20 years
  • Updated: 16 July, 2015
  • Author: Jean Llewllyn OBE, Chief Executive of the National Skills Academy for Nuclear

But with concerted collaborative effort between industry, government and skills bodies this challenge can be addressed, ensuring high quality careers, jobs and supply chain opportunities can be secured for UK individuals and companies.

Key to addressing these challenges is having accurate labour market intelligence (LMI) on which to base skills strategies and plans.

Nuclear Workforce Assessment Report 2014

To collate an accurate picture of the LMI requirements for the current and future UK nuclear programme (civil and defence) the partners of the Nuclear Energy Skills Alliance (NESA) carried out extensive work with industry in 2014 to compile this information into the Nuclear Workforce Assessment Report. This data is now being used as the agreed basis for skills planning and it demonstrates some very important sector information, the graph below shows the overall nuclear workforce demand from 2014 to 2034.

Chart showing demand for nuclear skills 2014 - 2034
Figure 1: Nuclear workforce demand from 2014 to 2034

This data clearly demonstrates that the industry faces some major challenges including: significantly increased recruitment; increasing diversity; transitioning into the sector; transferability; sustainability; workforce capability and demonstrating competence.

Addressing the skills challenges

While this may seem like a huge challenge a very significant amount of work has already been undertaken to put in place skills interventions and solutions to address these challenges.

Indeed nuclear employers have been working collaboratively together for the last eight years to tackle the nuclear skills agenda via the establishment and leadership of the National Skills Academy for Nuclear (NSAN). These employers have been working together to ‘get ahead of the game’ to help address and mitigate these skills challenges. Many interventions have been developed and put in place by this collaborative employer approach, such as:

  • The capability model: a ‘good practice approach to training, accreditation and nuclear professionalism’
  • High quality provider network: Developed to significantly increase the availability of high quality training for the nuclear sector
  • Nuclear industry online learning portal: To enable the efficient exchange, maintenance and up-dating of training resources
  • Apprenticeships: New ‘trailblazer’ standards have been developed and support has been put in place to enable small and medium-sized businesses to appoint new and additional apprentice

Future challenges

While much has been put in place there still remains a challenge.

To meet the future demand a significant increase in recruitment is needed across the sector, yet with the delays to the new build programme and lack of contract certainty it is difficult for employers to recruit the numbers required

While interest in working in nuclear is increasing with many apprenticeship and graduate programmes considerably oversubscribed, there is still a need to recruit experienced personnel from other engineering sectors to ensure the sector has a suitably skilled and experienced workforce

There is also an additional challenge, particularly for the supply chain caused by the peaks and troughs of demand. For a variety for reasons the nuclear new build programme is facing significant delays to its planned start date and some areas of decommissioning also now have different time scales. This means that skilling up to meet the nuclear requirement is difficult to plan and invest in at the appropriate time

Collectively the industry needs to review how it can increase the recruitment pool and consider how it can work in collaboration with other sectors to attract experienced individuals.

About the author

Jean Llewellyn OBE is chief executive of National Skills Academy for Nuclear and chair of the Nuclear Energy Skills Alliance.