Powering the nuclear sector - the brains behind the billions

Jessica Vallentine
Project Manager of Nuclear South West | Enterprise Europe Network
22nd February 2016

If you’ll pardon the most obvious pun in the book - the nuclear industry is about to boom.

With the UK entering a new stage in its nuclear history, the South West is set to cash in, with fifteen projects set to bring £50 billion to our region in the next two decades.

As we prepare for biggest economic transformational change in a generation, a total of 50,000 person-years of employment will be required across the manufacturing, construction and operation sectors to make it happen –far larger than the London Olympics. Although we aren’t competing for gold medals, the nuclear sector has a greater demand for higher and specialist skills.

Are we ready for it?

It’s a tough question. £50 billion in two decades is a deal we’d all take, but before you see the cartoon pound signs there are few barriers to be addressed.

Nationally, a number of industry experts have raised the alarm about skills gaps in the nuclear sector as many experienced workers are set to retire just as a major overhaul is under way.

Research forecasts that the workforce must grow by 4,700 people a year over the next 6 years to cater for the demand, but 3,900 people are expected to leave the sector over the same period. This ups the recruitment demand to 8,600 people every year.

So, how do we address this gap? It is no easy feat, and it requires collaboration between business and education at this critical junction.

Education needs to help businesses inspire young people by showing them the number and diversity of opportunities available to them, and business needs to engage with schools and colleges, offering more apprenticeships, traineeships, and graduate schemes.

Are we getting closer?

It’s a marathon not a sprint, and steps have been taken in the right direction. For example, at Hinkley Point C, EDF Energy plans to introduce initiatives for upskilling and aims to create 1,000 apprenticeships.

Look across the South West and you will see ribbons being cut outside new innovative hubs, like the green skills centre at Berkeley aimed at building the brains to power the industry and the Somerset Energy Innovation Centre bringing more business into the local area.

The collaborative work that the Hinkley Point Training Agency is doing via the leadership of Bridgwater College and its wider coalition of providers is also vitally important.

The view from education

Bridgwater College in Somerset are a prime example of what is being done to bridge the nuclear skills gap.

As one of the leading training providers for the nuclear and sustainable energy sectors with an £8 million state-of-the-art Energy Skills Centre, they have recently been successful in attracting the South West hub of the brand new National College for Nuclear, collaborating with EDF Energy and the University of Bristol.

“We have long understood the commercial advantage of forging close collaborative partnerships with industry. The landing of the South West hub of the National College for Nuclear to Bridgwater will further strengthen the South West’s position at the forefront of technical skills training. Its unique immersive learning environment will create an efficient and professional workforce that fully understands the rigours and expectations of the nuclear industry.”

- Matt Tudor, Bridgwater College's Head of Business Development

The view from an apprentice

Underhill Engineering is an interesting example of a company with a prestigious portfolio of nuclear and other complex projects who have successfully taken on apprentices, such as Chris Way.

“I wanted to learn a skill that would bolster my career. After completing my A-Levels, I knew having experience with the tools would be the best stepping stone for me. Underhill gave me more options, more experience on tooling and a better training base. I’ve been able to work on small and large projects like the bridge at St Austell Station and projects for the nuclear decommissioning scheme at HMNB Devonport.”

- Chris Way – Apprentice at Underhill Engineering

What’s next?

To power the next two decades and beyond, we need to hear more success stories just like Chris. This is one of the main purposes of Nuclear South West, to support the industry of the present and of the future.

For more information on how to join Nuclear South West, contact enquiries@nuclearsouthwest.co.uk

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