Momentum at last for UK nuclear industry?

27 October 2015

The nuclear renaissance is on our doorstep and we have a one-off chance to maximise the opportunity, writes Jean Llewellyn.

October has been an exciting month for the UK nuclear industry with a deal agreed during the state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping for the Chinese to invest £6 billion ($9 billion) for a 33% share in the Hinkley Point C new build project and plans for them to take shares in two further plants. EDF Energy is now expected to make a final investment decision on HPC by the end of the year.

These announcements have generated huge excitement and the press coverage has been significant with everyone feeling that the nuclear renaissance is finally gaining momentum. Clearly some of the coverage has been mixed with those of us in the industry seeing it as a great step forwards whilst those that oppose nuclear seeing it in a less positive light. However, no one can argue with the fact that a growing nuclear program has the potential to create jobs, provide opportunities for exciting career development and create opportunities for the UK supply chain.

In the midst of all this excitement though we mustn't overlook the scale of the current and potential future nuclear program. As well as the HPC project, the Horizon and NuGen projects are moving apace, we have a major decommissioning program, plus the existing nuclear fleet. So both the challenges and opportunities are significant.

Additionally the Treasury recently published a UK Skills Infrastructure Report. This report looks at the skills requirements of all the forthcoming major infrastructure projects across: Energy; Transport; Communications; Water & Sewage; Science & Research; Flood Defences and Waste. The combined value of all these is circa £411 billion ($630 billion), creating even greater skills challenges and opportunities.

So what is being done and what more can be done to harness the benefits of all this to help ensure the opportunities for jobs, careers and the supply chain in the UK are maximised? The UK nuclear industry has been at the forefront of collaborative action in terms of sector skills development and it recognised more than 10 years ago that working in isolation as individual companies wasn't the most effective way to tackle the skills and supply chain challenges. This led to the main employers recognising that they needed to find a way to work together as a collective, collaborative and non-competitive forum to address the skills challenges and to help develop supply chain capacity and capability to support the UK nuclear program.

The outcome of this was the establishment of the National Skills Academy for Nuclear (NSAN) as the vehicle to provide this collective, non-competitive forum for industry. NSAN has now been in place for eight years and has more than 120 collaborating employer members and over 50 Provider members that deliver training on its behalf. Maintaining momentum with this collaborative approach is essential if we are to deliver the UK nuclear program successfully.

The requirements to address the skills challenges are many and varied, some can only be done on an individual company basis in terms of recruitment and terms & conditions. But many others are a collective responsibility, including for example:

• Flexibility and mobility of the workforce. A lot of money is invested by companies in training and developing individuals to ensure they have the right skills and competencies for a particular role. In a very tight labour market it is important that these skills are transferable and recognised across the industry so that individuals can respond to the peaks and troughs of demand. This isn't about poaching staff but about enabling skills transfer where it is appropriate. An example of such a collective solution for nuclear is the development and adoption by industry of the Triple Bar Suite: Existing Sites, Nuclear New Build, Manufacturing and Security. These are agreed induction programs enabling contractors and individuals to receive a common training standard that can then be recognised at different sites. The outcomes of this include: improved quality, saving time and money and improving the time to supply chain mobilisation.

• Demonstrating Competence: Once individuals have acquired skills and developed competencies these need to be recognised and recorded in an agreed manner and system so that evidence of competence - skills, knowledge and behaviours can be demonstrated both by individuals and supply chains in tenders. Employers have worked together over the last seven years to develop the NS4P as an industry 'Skills and Competence Management System'. This is a centralised secure hosted repository of employee training records, qualification and competence assessments, administered by organisations from a simple to use interface. It is an essential tool to manage skills and capability and help identify skills shortages.

It can be seen that the industry is great at collaborating on developments, the challenge is usually in effective implementation. This takes time and commitment and with busy work loads and conflicting priorities this is never easy. However, momentum is now of the essence, the nuclear renaissance is on our doorstep and we have a one off opportunity to maximise the opportunities for both individuals and supply chain companies in the UK. Collectively great strides have been made and if the industry continues this collaborative model then there is every chance that there will be the capacity and capability required to maintain the nuclear momentum and deliver a successful UK nuclear program.

Jean Llewellyn

Comments? Please send them to

Jean Llewellyn is the CEO of the UK's National Skills Academy for Nuclear. She was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in June 2011 in recognition of her services to the energy industry and she was appointed as an Honorary Fellow of the Nuclear Institute in March 2010. The OBE recognises distinguished service to the arts and sciences, public services outside the Civil Service and work with charitable and welfare organisations of all kinds. Llewellyn is a member of a wide range of industry and government boards and committees working to address the nuclear skills challenge.