Skills for tomorrow26 June 2018
As a new survey provides a snapshot of the nuclear skills landscape, NEI examines some of the challenges facing the sector.
THE NUCLEAR INDUSTRY IS FACING a skills challenge on a global scale. An ageing workforce, skills shortages in some areas, and competition with other infrastructure projects, means action is needed today to secure the skills required for future new build, defence and decommissioning programmes.
Reports that almost two thirds of the industry’s nuclear professionals are considering moving to another industry, according to the Global Energy Talent Index Report 2018 published by Airswift and Energy Jobline, also mean that the sector may need to reshape its image and adopt a new approach to sourcing talent.
“Nuclear businesses should note the high percentage of professionals open to moving to another sector,” says Janette Marx, chief operating officer at Airswift, a global workforce solutions provider for the energy, process and infrastructure sectors. “Employers need to take action to change that by using digital technologies to foster a culture of flexible and remote working. This will allow them to build the engaged, happy and motivated workforce they need to thrive.”
The GETI study surveyed some 21,000 energy industry professionals and hiring managers, from 163 countries. Key data from 64,000 job postings advertised on Energy Jobline in 2017 was analysed for the report, alongside hiring data from placements made at Airswift over the same period.
Of those surveyed for GETI 2018, many were approaching retirement. Two-thirds were aged 45-65, which means they are set to retire in the next two decades. Just 10% of the respondents were female.
In comparison, the UK nuclear sector had 87,560 fulltime employees in 2017, according to the UK Nuclear Skills Strategy Group’s Nuclear Workforce Assessment 2017. One fifth of these workers were aged 55 or above and around 22% were female.
“The UK nuclear industry has an ageing demographic, and around 10% of the workforce are either subject matter experts or, more commonly, in roles requiring specialist nuclear skills,” Jo Tipa, managing director of the UK’s National Skills Academy for Nuclear (NSAN) told NEI earlier this year. “The lead time in developing such skills can be between 10 to 20 years, so effective knowledge management is needed. Critical people and roles have to be identified, processes and techniques developed to store and transfer the critical knowledge and expertise.” The UK has identified areas for possible pinch points (safety case preparation, control and instrumentation, reactor operation, site inspectors, project planning and control, commissioning engineers, electrical engineers, emergency planners, quality assurance and chemists).
“Recruitment is important, but time to competence equally has to be considered by organisations upskilling for nuclear contracts,” says Tipa. “A large proportion of the skills needed to work in nuclear and on new-build sites are technical skills, not specifically nuclear.” The majority of this technical capability already exists in the construction and manufacturing industries, but it is up to the nuclear sector to attract workers.
When looking at remuneration, nuclear sits right in the middle of the energy industry, the GETI report notes. It found that salaries and rates have crept steadily upwards, with nearly half of nuclear professionals reporting a pay rise over the past year. Most workers expect an increase in pay over 2018, but only a modest one. However, the sector may need to increase wages further in the future, particularly in countries that are looking to expand their nuclear power programmes.
According to figures from the NSSG, construction of 16GWe of new nuclear generation capacity across five UK sites, plus delivery of the submarine successor programme, will eventually require an additional inflow of around 7000 workers per year (including short term appointments after 2016-2021). This, coupled with the need to replace the 20% of the nuclear workforce who will pass the age of 65 in the next ten years, is evidence of the need for fast recruitment.
Established countries, like the UK, may also face competition from emerging markets in the Middle East and Asia. As illustrated by the maps below, which are based on data from the GETI 2018, some regions already command higher salary packages for nuclear experts. According to the GETI report, around three quarters of nuclear professionals would consider moving to another region for work, however this is ten percent fewer than the industry average.
Once China and other countries start seriously increasing investment in nuclear, NES Global Talent expects to see 5% year-on-year growth in salaries, as the demand for skilled workers grows.
“To prepare for future growth and minimise the problems caused by skills shortages businesses must create effective talent pool plans and develop a pipeline of talent,” Thomas Farrelly, regional director for North Asia at NES Global Talent told NEI. “To do so they have to map out their investment and expansion plans over the coming years and take a close look at the existing skill set within their business to identify the gaps that will have to be filled.”
The 2018 GETI report has a specific focus on digitalisation. It found that while nuclear companies have some of the most technologically-advanced projects in the energy industry, perceptions of digitalisation are somewhat skewed.
“Younger consumers frown upon nuclear as an outdated industry. Because of this, many people are quick to believe that the technology is outdated,” says Marx. “However, looking at advances like small nuclear reactors, that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
The survey also found nuclear workers the least likely to say that digitalisation was a positive development (75%), compared with oil and gas (77%), petrochemicals (80%) and power (83%).
“For years, the nuclear industry has excelled at combining skilled individuals with cutting-edge technology to generate some exciting projects,” adds Marx. “Digitalisation adds to the precise knowledge set that nuclear workers possess and helps them do their job better.”
The report suggests that automation may be advantageous for one of the biggest problems facing the sector: an ageing workforce. “Automating operational processes can help provide coverage in areas where human oversight or knowledge isn’t as critical,” notes Hannah Peet, managing director at Energy Jobline.
Peet adds, “The sector sits comfortably in the middle when it comes to pay, so hiring managers should find other ways to attract and retain employees. Digitalisation is the key. Younger professionals get this – almost nine-in-ten see it as good for the future of the sector. Businesses must embrace the benefits if they are to replenish their ageing workforce with this next generation of talent.”
Nuclear Engineering International has published a special edition for distribution at this year¹s World Nuclear Exhibition.
The focus of the special edition is on how digital solutions, virtual reality, robotics and other emerging technologies have the potential to secure the future of nuclear power.
With existing reactors facing increasing market pressures, digitalisation and automation offer opportunities to improve efficiency and reduce costs.
Robotics, data analytics and new simulation capabilities can aid cleanup of legacy facilities. New technology is also revolutionising the workplace, and can help the nuclear industry to attract a new generation of talent to replace its ageing workforce.
Looking ahead to the next decades, innovative technologies from small modular reactors to Generation IV designs and new fusion concepts, promise to make the next generation of nuclear energy more competitive with other energy sources.