Diversity key for UK nuclear workforce strategy

06 December 2018

The UK needs 7000 skilled people to join its nuclear sector every year in order to reach a projected peak demand of 100,600 full-time equivalent workers in 2021 a newly released update to the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group's (NSSG) strategic plan has found.

NSSG Chair Fiona Rayment speaking at Nuclear 2018 today (Image: NIA)

The Updated Strategic Skills Plan, launched today at the UK Nuclear Industry Association's Nuclear 2018 conference in London, sets out how the NSSG is continuing to build such a sustained pipeline of trained employees. The update reflects insights from members of the NSSG - an industry-led strategic group of employers, government and trade unions representing both the civil and defence sectors - and new intelligence, risks and evidence that have arisen since the group's original Strategic Plan was published in 2016.

A significant recent development is the UK's Nuclear Sector Deal, which was published earlier this year. Developed under the stewardship of the Nuclear Industry Council, this is a commitment by the UK's nuclear sector to work collectively, with support from government, to deliver on the government's 2017 Industrial Strategy, drive clean growth throughout the economy and make civil nuclear power an integral part of the UK’s energy future. The NSSG's updated plan outlines how the targets under the People element of the Nuclear Sector Deal will be delivered.

The People targets sit across five key themes: enhance skills leadership, including a "new, challenging diversity target" to increase the female workforce to 40% by 2030; local apprenticeships, with a target of more than doubling the current apprentice intake to reach a target of 2000 new starts per year; staying at the cutting edge, with a target of 72 nuclear-related PhDs commenced annually; sector transferability, aiming for an extra 20% of entrants transferring into nuclear from other sectors; and exciting the next generation about nuclear, through targeted schools outreach, and industry collaboration in developing and sharing education and careers interventions.

Plan outputs include establishing a sectoral Equality, Diversity & Inclusivity strategy, and a communication strategy for attracting and maintaining a more diverse workforce for the sector.

"Diversity has repeatedly been found to drive innovation, creativity and financial performance," the report notes. "Diversity will have an impact on each of the five foundations of productivity highlighted in the Industrial Strategy, and as such will form an overarching theme for the NSSG going forward."

The "most obvious" opportunity comes from the area of increased gender diversity, the report notes, setting a target of increasing the number of women in the UK nuclear sector from its current 22% to 40% by 2030.

"We are … missing the opportunities gained from enthusing, motivating and ultimately recruiting a greater proportion of women into our workforce. Although our conversion rate from female applicant to female recruit is good, we struggle to attract and retain women within our sector. The same is true for a range of other diverse characteristics, for instance, ethnicity, disability, socio-economic diversity, diversity of supply chain, and diversity in the sectors from which we attract our workforce," it says.

The NSSG said it will continue to maintain a focus on existing programmes which are already under way, as well as the new actions described in the update report. Programmes launched or supported by the NSSG since its inception include a nuclear bursary to encourage a wider range of people to upskill for a nuclear career; a bespoke nuclear recruitment platform for apprentices and graduates; apprenticeship standards for nuclear operatives and technicians; the early development of one of the UK's first PhD level Apprenticeship Standards for a nuclear subject matter expert; and a pilot programme to reskill and transition skilled personnel from coal power stations into nuclear.

Minister for Nuclear Richard Harrington said the updated plan would ensure that UK nuclear employers can recruit the highly skilled workforce they need.

"We want to increase the number of women in nuclear, double the current apprenticeship intake, and excite the next generation about the future of nuclear in the UK," he said.

NSSG Chair Fiona Rayment, who is also executive director of the UK National Nuclear Laborotory Nuclear Innovation and Research Office, said the update reflected new insights about the changing shape of the growing nuclear sector and the skills required.

"The Nuclear Sector Deal sets out to boost productivity, reduce costs and grow our domestic and international business. All of this will be delivered through the contribution of our skilled people," she said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News