Where will the IAEA, and for that matter, any company, any technical or scientific organization, find qualified staff in the future? The answer is to begin recruiting young people, very young people. How young? The best time to start recruiting future high tech workers is in grade school. By exciting students nine years of age and older about science and technology, they will find it much easier to make the best academic choices that lead to a career in those fields.
As the moderator of a discussion forum on ensuring sustainable workforce development at that the 57th IAEA General Conference, Janice Dunn Lee, IAEA Deputy Director General and head of the Department of Management, said "We are all concerned about increasing the number of qualified people we can recruit at the IAEA, or in research or in industry. We simply have to change the way we approach this challenge, if we are serious about changing the current status quo."
Deputy Director General Dunn Lee introduced an expert in changing the status quo whose pioneering programme to encourage young people to choose a scientific or technical career has enjoyed growing success. Valerie Segovia, the Director of Outreach and Development of the Nuclear Power Institute at Texas A&M University, explained how the Nuclear Power Institute helps young people, particularly young women, pursue careers in the sciences.
The Nuclear Power Institute’s programme has markedly increased interest in science and technology among the students it mentors. Over 80% of the students mentored through the Nuclear Power Institute's programme are interested in a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, while only 15% of the US high school student population expresses an interest in those career paths.
"Don't underestimate the power of your influence," Segovia advises, since organizations can build partnerships with teachers that create powerful connections with students. Students are grateful for "your encouragement, a clear direction for their future and the acknowledgement that they have the talent for a scientific or technical career," Segovia emphasizes. Creativity in outreach, persistence, and sometimes just a small gesture like a lecture or a field trip are sufficient to reach many students. That effort to reach out to students gives them the necessary resolve to become engaged with science and technology. The Nuclear Power Institute provides mentoring and tailored support programs that help students remain engaged as they face academic challenges, ensuring that they can succeed.
In a global context, Segovia noted that "education and training are the keys to sustainable power" and that power can be used to improve individual prosperity.
Deputy Director General Dunn Lee concluded the workshop by leading a discussion, exploring means to apply this success programme more widely. She explained to the Member State representatives and the IAEA officials that "we came together today to consider ideas that lead to big or small concrete steps that will help us address this critical need and will influence young people around the world early enough in the education to make a positive difference for them. And, when we succeed we will also help ensure the sustainable development of a well-qualified nuclear work force in the future."