U.K. addresses widening skills gap in nuclear sector through education programs, national strategies

Published on October 27, 2017 by Alex Murtha

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A roundtable discussion of industry experts on how to address the widening skills gap in the nuclear sector caused by the retirement of an aging workforce is scheduled to be held at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) annual International Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on Oct. 30.

The United Kingdom, in particular, is in the midst of a multifaceted approach to dealing with the issue through a number of strategies involving educational programs, training workshops, and focused national programs.

“The United Kingdom is experiencing a nuclear renaissance,” Lynne Matthews, Education and Skills Strategy Manager at EDF Energy, said. “In order to build, operate and decommission current and future stations, we need to ensure we have the skills needed.”

Matthews said one way to address the skills gap was to support public understanding and acceptance of nuclear power through programs and activities to inspire young people to choose careers in the industry.

One program, called The Pod, provides free resources for teaching children and adolescents aged between four and 14 years on topics in energy, waste, transportation, biodiversity and climate change.

Developed by EDF Energy in 2008, the Pod originally set a goal of engaging 2.5 million students by 2012 through a number of education programs. Today, it is being taught in more than 22,000 schools throughout the U.K. and has more than 10 million students and 32,000 teachers registered in the program.

On the national level, the U.K.’s Nuclear Skills Strategy Group (NSSG) was developed to help coordinate the efforts of all major nuclear players and to collaborate on initiatives that address attraction and mobilization of a nuclear workforce.

Beccy Pleasant, head of Skill and Talent at the National Decommissioning Authority (NDA), detailed another program developed by Sellafield, the U.K.’s fuel reprocessing and nuclear decommissioning site.

“It offers nuclear degree apprenticeships for young people who are looking for an alternative to going to university,” Pleasant said. “This is just a selection of the work being developed by the NDA to ensure the ongoing availability of a talented workforce for decommissioning.”

The IAEA also developed a tool called the Compendium, which aims to increase awareness and appreciation of nuclear science among adolescents.

Currently being tested by the IAEA and education experts from several countries, the Compendium utilizes unique teaching strategies to introduce science and technology into education systems.

The program was first launched in 2015 as a pilot study in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and the United Arab Emirates. IAEA said the Compendium could be applied in additional countries such as Jordan, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, at their request.