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Encouraging Careers in Nuclear: The UK’s Strategy for a Sustainable Nuclear Workforce

Workers at Sellafield (Photo: NDA)

One of the topics to be discussed at the International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century is the skills gap in the nuclear sector and how to address it. This article shows the United Kingdom’s approach in dealing with this issue.

In order to address the widening skills gap caused by the retirement of an ageing workforce in the nuclear industry, the UK is devising strategies to develop the skills of its young people and encourage them to pursue careers in this sector.

“The United Kingdom is experiencing a nuclear renaissance,” said Lynne Matthews, Education and Skills Strategy Manager at EDF Energy.  “In order to build, operate and decommission current and future stations, we need to ensure we have the skills needed.”

One of the ways of addressing this gap, Matthews added, is to support public understanding and acceptance of nuclear through programmes and activities and inspire the young to choose careers in this industry.

Nuclear for children

The Pod is an education programme promoted by EDF Energy, the largest producer of low-carbon electricity in the UK. The programme provides free resources for teaching children and adolescents aged between 4 and 14 years about topics in energy, waste, water, transport, biodiversity and climate change.

EDF Energy developed the Pod in 2008 to help meet its goal of engaging 2.5 million children by 2012 in education programmes about the sustainable use of energy. Today, it has more than 22 000 registered schools, with more than 10 million children and 32 000 teachers registered in the programme. More than 200 schools from 54 other countries have also joined.

“The Pod provides ideas for teachers to use in the classroom, such as games and competitions. This interactive approach helps students have fun while learning about sustainable development and energy saving, Matthews explained.

“We are starting with primary schools and working all the way to university level. We also have nuclear site tours to help dispel any myths about nuclear. We want to encourage openness, transparency and trust.”

Within the scope of its educational activities, EDF Energy also provides opportunities for young people to enrol in training workshops and graduate and post-graduate programmes. These opportunities give students the chance to develop their academic qualifications while gaining field experience. They also equip them with the skills necessary to build a successful career in the nuclear industry.

Focused national strategies

Other activities are being carried out on the national level. The United Kingdom’s Nuclear Skills Strategy Group (NSSG) was established to coordinate the efforts of all the major nuclear players in the sector. It has developed a clear action plan of collaborative initiatives which address the attraction, development and mobilization of a nuclear workforce. Each of these initiatives is sponsored by organizations within the sector, with Government agencies also playing a role. 

Feeding into the NSSG Strategic Plan is the National Decommissioning Authority’s (NDA) People Strategy, which is designed to ensure that the UK’s decommissioning sector has the skills and capability to deliver its mission. 

“This strategy covers a range of aspects, from attracting young people into the industry through targeted skills interventions at schools and developing fit-for-purpose apprenticeship programmes, right through to the development and redeployment of skills to ensure that they stay within the sector,” said Beccy Pleasant, Head of Skill and Talent at the NDA.

Another programme has been developed by Sellafield, the country’s fuel reprocessing and nuclear decommissioning site. “It offers nuclear degree apprenticeships for young people who are looking for an alternative to going to university,” Pleasant said. “This is just a selection of the work being developed by the NDA to ensure the ongoing availability of a talented workforce for decommissioning.”

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