We can’t let nuclear engineers disappear with projects, here’s why
There’s no doubt that the world of nuclear has gone through a level of disruption in recent years. Aside from the ongoing challenges sourcing nuclear engineers, as renewable and sustainable energy production methods evolve, nuclear has faced significant challenges to its position as a leading source of power. Indeed, just last week, news hit that Japanese firm Hitachi will suspend works on its multi-billion-pound UK project due to rising costs. This would leave Hinckley Point C power station as the only new UK reactor still being built – a worrying thought when we consider that these reactors are, and will remain, one of the leading sources of energy in the near future.
The impact on nuclear engineers
Perhaps more importantly, though, as more investment moves away from the nuclear field, the drain on resources is exacerbated. We’re already seeing an increasing number of engineers choose to exit the industry and take up a career in renewables, for example.
In fact, if we look at the skills gap in this field, the numbers are already a concern. Government estimates predict that the UK nuclear workforce will need to grow from 70000 to 98000 by 2021 in order to meet ambitious project deadlines and help keep the industry thriving. However, the numbers to achieve this simply aren’t there. In 2011 there were 500,000 people working in the nuclear industry, but figures from the European Resources Observatory for Nuclear, suggest that by 2020 there will only be 63,000 experts remaining in this field.
This situation will only worsen as investment in nuclear drops and fewer individuals choose a career in this industry, making a future without the required talent to drive new reactor builds a very realistic concern. The fact is, this energy source has powered the country for over 60 years, and is still one of the largest and safest sources of low-carbon electricity. If we start to lose the talented experts that have driven this success, we could be facing a future without nuclear.
A retirement cliff looms
Added to this, retirement levels in the nuclear workforce are rising steadily. Figures estimate that 70% of the current nuclear energy workforce will be retired by 2025, creating a major staffing challenge for businesses that are already struggling to attract niche skills. While there is so much focus on attracting and acquiring workers, employers must also consider who is leaving and how their knowledge – which has often been developed over an extensive period – can be conserved. Learning is often a two-way street and implementing initiatives such as mentoring and shadowing schemes can be a clever way of transferring skills between younger and older generations. For example, young workers might be more agile and comfortable using new technology which they can share with older employees. Whereas for those looking to retire, given that positions on nuclear plants tend to last for up to fifteen years, they can pass on the experience and skills they’ve built up over the years to new hires - ensuring there is a constant transfer of knowledge within an organisation.
Addressing the issue
How we overcome the challenge of a drop in available engineers and investment in nuclear is, to be frank, an impossible question to answer with certainty. From our perspective, we hope that once Brexit is done and dusted attention can be refocused on once again securing financial investment in this vital field. For employers in this specialism, however, now is not the time to put the brakes on employer branding activity.
Regardless of the immediate delays that nuclear is facing, work needs to continue to encourage more professionals to choose a career in this field and, more importantly, stick with it. And where the workforce is set to retire, steps need to be taken to capture the skills and knowledge of these highly experienced individuals and pass it on to the future generation of experts.
Yes, we are facing uncertain times ahead, but we can’t write off nuclear completely. The industry is at a crossroads, where the potential to evolve how reactors work to develop more sustainable options is on the cusp of development. Giving up now will see years of investment and potential lost in a heartbeat.
If you’re looking to source talented nuclear experts for your project or need advice on your talent pipelining strategies, contact our expert team today.