The nuclear workforce is ageing.

The nuclear workforce is ageing. Well, that’s according to industry research and means that attrition within that workforce is growing.  STEM subjects are not attracting the numbers they once were and the trend in recent years has seen a once staff heavy workforce shift to a contract heavy market where limited companies providing services are being set up by people with less and less sector knowledge and time served experience. This has left a large gap where the skills transfer from experienced staff seniors to more junior workers or graduates would traditionally have taken place.

The UK’s nuclear sector has been quiet in recent years due to spending caps, stalled initiatives and decisions on the future of the new build programme but this could well be the calm before the storm.  Things are beginning to move and there is hope of investment being injected into the sector.  Should the likes of Hinkley Point C, Moorside and Wylfa Newydd become a reality and overlap then those things impacting the workforce are going to become far more apparent. Nuclear decommissioning is a long term programme and will continue to require large numbers of human resource and additional programmes such as Successor are likely to stretch available resource further still.

The positive side to this oncoming situation is that thousands of jobs will be created in a healthy geographical spread across the UK. These jobs will create further jobs in the supply chain and if managed correctly could have huge positive socio-economic impact but, the challenge remains as to how a potential deficit in resource numbers can be addressed.

Going on some of the numbers recently published, circa 5000 new workers are going to be needed within the sector every year over the next 5 years. If we are realistic and assume that the projects will be true to every other similar one currently under construction elsewhere in the world then that timeline can be extended beyond 7 years.  According to Government research, circa 4000 Suitably Qualified and Experienced Personnel are due to retire every year in that same timeframe. In real terms that means close to 9000 workers will have to be recruited to these projects every year. That sounds great for employment figures but the reality is that these won’t all be new workers. Many of the skilled workforce will migrate as and when required, and to the highest bidder, which creates an entirely different problem.

So many questions require answers. How do we engage young people in STEM subjects, how do we continue to develop and nurture the existing knowledge base and how do we retain that knowledge for future generations? Even then we fall short in numbers by the thousand and when other resource constrained and potentially competing sectors are looking for ways to attract highly skilled talent, are we really doing enough to attract those with transferrable, or even new and innovative, skills from outside of the nuclear sector to ensure its future?

The challenges, it seems, are easy to identify but less so to address. To date, no individual, group or organisation have had all of the answers. This is an issue we face collectively and we need to spark debate and generate ideas on how, as an industry standing together, we can meet the demands that a successful nuclear sector bestows upon us.