Viewpoint: All set for the new generation?

25 May 2018

The International Atomic Energy Agency is holding its Third International Conference on Human Resource Development for Nuclear Power Programmes next week. Here, Patricia Wieland, head of World Nuclear University (WNU), who will be a speaker at the event, shares her thoughts on working with young professionals. The conference, on 'meeting challenges to ensure the future nuclear workforce capability', is taking place on 28–31 May in Gyeongju, South Korea.

Evolution is the only certainty we have, and change comes quickly, with new devices, apps and frameworks to be assessed, while efficiency is always a must.

Managers need not only to encourage innovation but be ready to understand it and incorporate it into their business. The question is how flexible their company is to recognise and accommodate the abilities, skills, preferences and high-tech proposals of the young generation within their workforce.

Machines will certainly continue to replace people in repetitive work, while people will continue to create new machines. The uniqueness of the human being is critical thinking, with the ability to innovate, optimise processes, make balanced decisions and demonstrate feelings. For now at least.



It is not easy to be a manager with 360-degree responsibilities and duties, but the key to their success lies in motivating their team.

Zheng Mingguang, president of the Shanghai Nuclear Engineering Research & Design Institute, in China, offered this piece of advice to fellows of last year's World Nuclear University Summer Institute. If managers don't foresee a future that is bright, then they can't expect others to follow them.

A team is motivated when they sense they have the greatest chance of success, with clear breakthrough points laid out ahead of them. This can simply mean delivering on time and to budget, but any deviation from the expected outcome will demand an extra dose of creativity to nurture motivation.

Motivated people are not merely those who feel their potential is recognised, but those who also feel they have a role to play in all stages of a project. They want to feel they are being listened to and that their ideas are valued. Young nuclear professionals are adept in the use of new technology and can adapt easily to different circumstances. They are critical and quick-thinking and they want to see results and to know how to build their career effectively.

We can see their strengths in the Networks for Nuclear Innovation (NNI) of the WNU Summer Institute where WNU fellows research, develop and present new ideas on topics such as 'nuclear in the energy matrix', 'sustainability factors in energy systems' and 'effective global communication in the 21st century'. It's amazing how the NNIs achieve as much as they do in a matter of days.

In an era of communicating remotely, where working from home is popular, managers should foster sharing information, including face-to-face communication, to strengthen relationships, build trust and open channels of communication. This can be done through inspirational and interesting events that enhance curiosity about different subjects and stimulate camaraderie.

Managers should regularly involve all stakeholders connected to the success of a project to enhance understanding, trust and confidence. This can reduce risks caused by misunderstandings and a lack of knowledge.

Fly the flag


Everyone has a special talent, but this is often easier to spot in a non-routine context. Managers can identify the strengths and weaknesses of their staff by setting gradually more challenging milestones, which will help build confidence. A good way to do this is to engage young professionals in long-term projects and to support their participation in interdepartmental and international gatherings. In this way, they will gain a sense of being proud to represent the organisation as a whole through expanding their network and creating new opportunities.

We are all different of course and it is this diversity of perspective that makes us deliver better results. Every good manager treats every one of their employees as an individual and helps them recognise their talent at the company and how it serves the whole mission. More important still is to listen to each employee's point of view and to consider them in a balanced decision-making process.

The nuclear power industry has been remarkably successful thanks to its international cooperation and managers need to foster this willingness and ability to work in multicultural teams. This enables different ideas to be harmonised across the negotiating table. It also builds synergies and long-lasting networks. Sometimes, questions about the status-quo can be hard to address, but managers should be prepared to answer them. It is even better to proactively tackle sensitive issues in a sensible way.

Managers who help their staff develop their careers will themselves grow and become ready to occupy higher positions, sometimes in different sectors. While moving upwards can be challenging, those who have already made that journey can be ready to act as an 'executive coach'. This will speed up the learning process by prioritising the most important issues, introducing the network, providing information and responding to concerns. To facilitate this approach WNU is offering a new programme, Executive Enhancement, based on senior-level coaching.

At the WNU Summer Institute last year, Hans Blix, WNU chancellor and IAEA emeritus director general, said we should create a society based on actual facts and not on outdated values. Facts emerge every day and we need to learn continuously.

Act now


In developing specific skills required to meet the intended rise in electricity generation from nuclear fission, we should target the managers of today as well as the leaders of tomorrow. We should think of the legacy we ourselves have inherited and also what we are leaving to the next generation. What comes to mind here is communication.

We have been working for decades on improving public perception of nuclear power, but it is difficult to measure our success with this. I would say that every premature closure of a nuclear power plant is a mark of our failure with public perception.

I remember reading something that would have a big impact on my early career: The world that comes after you must be a better place to live in than it was for you.

We need to give up the expectation that leaders in the future will do better than we can now; we should be making every effort to improve the planet we are passing on to the next generation.

How? Well, we need clean energy NOW and so we cannot afford to postpone any decision to construct nuclear power plants that would replace units that pump out carbon emissions. Nuclear is, quite simply, a vital and viable part of the climate change solution.

Through the Harmony initiative, the nuclear industry aims for nuclear energy to provide 25% of world electricity generation by 2050 as part of a diverse mix of low-carbon generating technologies to avoid the most damaging consequences of climate change, based on the International Energy Agency's 'two-degree' scenario.

As an industry, our message is simple: There are today 450 clean energy nuclear power plants in operation in more than 30 countries around the world and 58 new units under construction in 15 countries. The safety and capacity records of nuclear power plants are the best compared to any other type of electricity generation.

But time is running out with climate change and managers need - as a matter of urgency - to understand new ideas and to communicate well internally and externally in order to maintain highly motivated and effective teams in a fast-evolving technological world. To do this, they need to be ready for the young professionals in their workforce NOW.

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