A call for innovation: meeting the talent demand in the nuclear sector
Two-thirds of talent acquisition and resource management professionals at Rullion’s Nuclear Sector Roundtable in April cited “skills shortage” as the number one challenge they faced when hiring today.
The virtual event brought together industry experts from 14 different organisations including UKAEA, EDF Energy, Altrad Babcock, KBR, Alten, Cycliffe, Mace, Createc, React Engineering, Bechtel, ATC, DBD International, Westinghouse, and Back to Work Group.
The purpose of the event was to exchange ideas, address challenges and propose solutions in an industry that is set to boom over the next 12-18 months, and yet continues to face skills shortages, intense global competition for skills, talent leakages, inadequate influx of new talent, poor resource planning, and an aging workforce.
Importance of a multifaceted approach
For 90 minutes, prompted by the talent challenges they faced, participants emphasised the importance of improving hiring manager capability, addressing bias, enhancing the employee and candidate experience, and accessing untapped talent sources. By implementing these strategies, the industry could work towards overcoming its hiring challenges and ensuring a sustainable talent pipeline for the future.
The consensus across the board, however, was that there is no single solution to address the skills shortage, and that organisations needed to employ a multifaceted approach.
Attracting candidates from diverse talent pools
As part of the solution, attendees emphasised the importance of creativity and tenacity, with a focus on attracting candidates from all possible talent pools and advocated for individuals with transferable skills rather than solely seeking candidates with specific nuclear experience.
Supporting hiring managers and recruitment teams
One significant issue raised during the discussion was the lack of focus on hiring managers' capability to objectively assess these types of candidates. Participants suggested exploring alternative assessment methods, such as strengths-based interviewing, to provide a level playing field and a fair evaluation for non-industry specific candidates. They also stressed the need for recruitment teams to support hiring managers and to guide them through the talent crisis, helping them make informed and swift decisions in an industry known for its slow recruitment pace.
To attract more people to the sector, hiring managers were encouraged to think outside the box and urged to consider candidates who perhaps didn’t possess all the required skills but exhibited a strong desire to learn and contribute; candidates with transferable skills or who were suitably qualified and experienced in different areas.
As part of this, the importance of developing people once they were on-site was also highlighted, and organisations were urged to remove unnecessary barriers that prevented talented individuals from entering their industry. Some organisations even said they’d already implemented intern programs to support individuals with barriers to entry, offering pre-employment training to prepare them for the workforce and to ensure their placements were successful.
Addressing bias in the hiring process was another crucial topic raised. Participants discussed inclusive hiring accreditation, unconscious bias training, blind CVs, and diverse interview panels as potential solutions. The aim, they said, was to create an environment that eliminated bias and fostered diverse views. However, there were differing opinions on the effectiveness of certain measures, such as blind CVs, with some suggesting that balanced interview panels – although challenging to achieve in engineering companies – had a more significant impact.
Improving the employee experience
Improving employee experience was recognised as a key priority for organisations, with line management capability identified as crucial in reducing attrition rates, in an industry that already suffers from talent leakages. As part of this, participants stressed the importance of providing an authentic and hospitable work environment to ensure that candidates’ actual experience aligned with promises made during the recruitment process.
Enhancing the candidate experience
Candidate experience was another area that required improvement, they said. Participants acknowledged that talent acquisition had often relied on impersonal processes and communications, which were not conducive to attracting candidates. Instead, they said the need for a highly competent recruitment capability that effectively communicated their organisations’ value proposition to potential candidates was called for, not to mention more of a focus on providing a positive candidate journey.
Promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion
Throughout the 90-minute discussion the importance of tapping into diverse talent pools was emphasised, with greater efforts needed to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion.
For example, organisations were urged to broaden their approaches even further and to consider individuals who might ordinarily face barriers to entry, such as those with care or criminal justice system experience. It was also suggested that forming partnerships with organisations like the Armed Forces Covenant could provide access to transferable skills that may not be found through traditional recruitment processes.
Moreover, some participants shared their positive experiences of employing alternative routes for talent attraction and development, including returners and transferers, rather than relying solely on traditional apprenticeship and graduate routes.
Addressing potential barriers and inclusion
Interestingly, although perhaps not surprising, the recruitment process itself was identified as a potential hindrance to attracting a wider pool of candidates, such as neurodiverse individuals.
The attendees stressed that it was important to consider potential barriers that candidates such as these might face and to find more inclusive processes to overcome them. Simple things like the language used in job adverts, for example, were identified as potential sources of exclusion as they could unintentionally discourage applicants from different sectors and with more diverse backgrounds from applying for roles from the get-go.
Developing the underemployed population
Additionally, the discussion touched on what some coined the “underemployed” population. The importance of providing development opportunities and alternative routes for entry into the nuclear industry for this group was highlighted, particularly individuals in their 20s to early 30s who may not have pursued higher education. Strategies such as skills-based assessment and utilising apprenticeship programs to help train and upskill them were suggested to harness the potential of this group of people.
Internal workforce development
Among the various strategies raised to address the recruitment challenges faced by the nuclear industry, one approach that participants were urged not to overlook, was the importance of looking within their own organisations and the promotion, training, and development of their existing workforce. While internal promotions didn’t eliminate the need for external recruitment, it allowed for recruiting skills and experience at a more junior level which could be easier to find, they said.
Engaging with youth and promoting STEM education
The significance of engaging with youth and promoting STEM education was also mentioned, with a focus on debunking misconceptions about engineering jobs and inspiring young people to pursue careers in the field. This was where providing work experience placements and collaborating with educational institutions to help cultivate emerging talent had a part to play, participants said.
Planning for future workforce requirements
The virtual conversation also touched upon the need to plan for future workforce requirements and the potential competition for skills in upcoming infrastructure projects. Anticipating workforce needs and implementing early careers’ processes would enable better preparation and avoid being caught off guard by skill shortages, participants agreed.
Balancing permanent and contract positions
Moreover, although the move towards more permanent hiring in the industry was seen as beneficial for building a career path within their organisations, it didn’t come without its challenges. Specifically, while permanent hiring had its advantages, in certain skill sets where contracting was prevalent and deeply embedded, it could be difficult to shift that mindset and often created tension where there had been none. Therefore, striking a balance between permanent and contract positions, and improving the recruitment process, was key to attracting and retaining key talent.
Retaining skills and addressing an aging workforce
As expected, the leakage of talent and the retention of skills were brought up as major causes for concern. As a potential workaround to the issue of an aging workforce, it was suggested that off-boarding processes should involve discussions with retiring or semi-retiring employees to retain their skills on a part-time, consultancy, or project basis.
Nuclear Skills Strategy Group (NSSG)
Collaboration and collective effort were emphasised as essential in addressing the skills shortage and to encourage more people to join the industry. The idea of working together to attract talent and organising joint events or exhibitions was put forward, and the NSSG was mentioned as a cross-sector joint venture dedicated to addressing talent challenges in the nuclear sector. Various organisations, including EDF, NNL, Jacobs, and Sellafield, to name a few, were mentioned as being involved in the NSSG to bring more skills into the sector.
Overall, the Nuclear Sector Roundtable highlighted the multifaceted nature of the challenges faced by talent acquisition and resource management professionals in the nuclear industry, particularly the skills shortage. The discussions emphasised the need for creativity, collaboration, and an open-minded approach to attract and develop diverse talent pools.
However, there was no definitive solution to the recruitment challenges identified. Instead, participants acknowledged that a comprehensive approach, that combined various strategies and efforts, was necessary to strengthen the industry and to mitigate the skills shortage.
Are you ready to make a difference in the nuclear industry's talent acquisition challenges? Get involved by attending our next roundtable event! Fill out our contact form below and we’ll invite you to the next one.