According to a report in the Financial Times earlier this year, officials estimate total nuclear labour demand will rise from 70,000 today to 98,000 by 2021. “Nuclear is a challenging business to resource… it takes a lot of hard work to keep the specialist team at a set size... You have to run to stay steady. On top of this there is a general shortage of engineering and technical skills across industries,” said Rob Machray, Head of Engineering at international nuclear engineering, project management and services contractor, Nuvia.
Challenges of resourcing nuclear
The ageing profile of the nuclear workforce
One of the biggest challenges facing Nuvia in the next five to 10 years is its ageing workforce. One way Horwood is trying to tackle this challenge is to become more open to flexible working as a business.
“So keeping people, who are due to retire, in work longer but perhaps working less days. That way we can retain that knowledge for a longer period of time while we start to divert their knowledge and experience,” she said.
Skills gap in the nuclear workforce
“Another challenge is a distinct shortage of nuclear engineers between the ages of 30 and 45,” said Machray.
“Although Nuvia and other nuclear companies have for the past 10 years begun to invest significantly in the next generation for the nuclear industry via initiatives such as more apprenticeships and graduate development, this does not address this later demographic gap,” he added.
Competing for talent with ‘Other Industries’
“Nuvia therefore need to attract best athletes from other industries and develop them through a nuclear delta,” Machray said.
And even though engineers are starting to pick up on the message that it is quite lucrative to move into nuclear, what they do not always realise is that there is a training and experience delta that they must first go through, he added.
Presently, finding the talent is not the problem, said Horwood.
“Competing for them is,” she said.
This is because “nuclear sites are in remote places… this can be a challenge,” explained Machray.
“Nuclear is also not as ‘sexy’ as perhaps other engineering industries, and it is often perceived progress is slower,” said Horwood.
“What makes the situation even harder is that due to the above issues, a significant percentage of the nuclear skilled engineers have switched to contracting because the rates are much higher and it is therefore much more lucrative,” said Horwood.
“We all like to think this [contractor] bubble is going to burst but it’s not showing any signs of doing that. I think that’s an ingredient of the skills shortage,” Machray added.
Type of Work
“Like all industries, the engineering talent will be drawn towards the more interesting challenges, which is natural. New Build Nuclear is where the interest is for the earlier and mid-career specialists. Working on the new Fusion Reactor build in Southern France is an obvious draw,” said Machray.
Moreover, as a result of this, Nuvia expect that resourcing the legacy decommissioning work will become increasingly challenging.
Another challenge nuclear organisations must meet is to develop solutions local to the work, said Machray.
He said: “The local communities have to gain a long lasting benefit from the nuclear investment and we have to build our nuclear teams’ local to where the investment is being made.”
The long end game
“Solving these challenges will require the industry to play the long game,” said Machray.
Another important aspect therefore is that industry will need to identify the business case for investment including a clear timeline and identifiable drumbeat of forward work for their companies.
“Waiting and expecting to solve this near to the time will drive up resource (and therefore project) costs significantly,” he added.
In order to tackle the challenges ahead, Nuvia is investing in a broad array of solutions to this multi-faceted problem. These include initiatives to multi-skill the current team, attract and up-skill non-nuclear specialists, improving the attractiveness of Nuvia and the Industry brand, targeting the percentage of women in project and technical roles, and investing in apprentices and graduates.
Nuvia has also taken steps to invest in a solid in-house recruitment team with good recruitment technology in order to help manage its permanent and returning contractor workforce in order to build a strong talent pool to meet future skills demands.
Multi-Skilling the current workforce
Nuvia needs to get the most out of the current team. To achieve this, Nuvia is multi-skilling experienced nuclear specialists into project management leadership and functional roles. This is to ensure the leadership retains that nuclear pedigree. To achieve this, they have established a project management office with a centre of excellence remit over the team.
Up skilling from other industries
“If you can’t attract and train and retain individuals from other industries then you probably won’t have enough people [in the next 10 years], “said Machray.
In fact Machray’s own background is in aerospace and he only moved to nuclear engineering three years ago.
Nuvia are therefore developing a nuclear delta programme which develops project and technical specialists from other industries for their nuclear needs. However ‘nuclearising’ engineers, as Machray puts it, is easier said than done. This is because, as well as just training, it involves trying to change the culture of a very traditional industry which expects 20 years of experience in each of its workers.
Improving employer brand
“If you’re not attracting talent from other industries, you’ve got no option but to pay well above the average to attract the people you need,” both Machray and Horwood pointed out.
“Although we’re well known in nuclear, [that isn’t always helpful] if you’re trying to attract people from non-nuclear,” said Machray.
“To expand, we are having to make ourselves known in unfamiliar areas,” he added.
Women in engineering
“If you want to grow your team long-term, then the low percentage of women in our project and engineering team is an obvious gap,” said Machray .
“A positive focus is needed to change this situation.”
Which is why, “this year three out of eight in our apprenticeship programme are women,” said Horwood.
“We also focus on recruiting more women at schools and encouraging more women to take an interest in STEM,” she said.
Building a talent pool for the future – schools, apprenticeships and university
“This year we have had quite significant investment in university graduates and apprentices compared to last year but it needs to be almost twice that to keep that talent pool constantly flowing,” Horwood said.
This is why Nuvia has invested heavily in its apprenticeship and graduate programmes, said Horwood.
Such is her commitment to attracting more youth into the engineering industry that Horwood has become a STEM Ambassador to encourage and inspire more young people in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Moreover all apprentices and graduates who join the business become STEM ambassadors and the company has set up a buddy system whereby older graduates and apprentices mentor new entrants, said Horwood.
“The output of today’s nuclear engineering apprentice programme and the quality of individuals completing the programme is excellent,” added Machray.
“Putting an apprentice through a four-year apprenticeship programme costs a total of £50,000. Although it is a huge investment to the business the output has proved worth the cost.”
Individuals coming out of university lack practical engineering experience and so initially require a lot more development than their apprentice counterparts, he added.
Moreover managing university graduates’ expectations is usually harder because they tend to expect to walk out of university into a high paying job and to be involved in projects where they lack the necessary skills and experience, said Horwood.
To combat this issue, Nuvia has now invested heavily in changing its two-year graduate programme to better develop practical skills in their graduates through practical experience and by industrial placement.
“Our graduate programme is now very defined and structured so that they know exactly where they are. We are being very transparent about how you get to the next stage,” said Horwood.
“We have condensed the one year course that the apprentices do offsite into 10 weeks for our graduates. So graduates are actually on the tools learning practical skills rather than just theory,” said Horwood.
Taking control of your employer brand – RPO versus in-house recruitment
Up until recently Nuvia had used an RPO for around eight years. The decision to bring recruitment entirely in-house was taken last year mainly to deliver greater control over developing their employer brand and the initiatives to meet the future resourcing challenge.
Although as an organisation Nuvia will continue to use recruitment agencies, this will now fall under the control and visibility of the internal recruitment team which the business has decided to invest heavily in.
As part of this new set up, the aim is to for the internal team to fill the majority of perm roles and to continue outsourcing contractor work, said Horwood. The internal team will also manage returning contractors who wish to invoice Nuvia directly rather than use an umbrella company or recruitment agency.
Given the importance of branding when attracting quality talent in such a niche, skills deprived market, Horwood and Machray feel that the Nuvia brand will be better articulated by an in-house team as opposed to an external party.
What the future holds
Although Nuvia has made a number of changes to address the challenges, both Machray and Horwood want to be doing more.
“Ultimately if none of these changes help to tackle the increasing skills shortages, the rates will have to make it work. Clearly this is a risk to our competitiveness and the costs of delivering the future nuclear solutions – we don’t want either of those potential outcomes to become a reality,” said Machray.
Nuvia is an international nuclear engineering, project management and services contractor. Based at six locations in the UK including many nuclear licensed sites, the Company provides products and services in the areas of new build, plant life extension, operations & maintenance, radiation safety, decommissioning and waste management.
Nuvia also provides high level programme management, design authority, project management for complex nuclear construction projects and specialist nuclear consultancy as well as undertaking challenging operations in the field of new build, decommissioning and waste management.
Nuvia Group benefits from being part of Soletanche Freyssinet, a world leader in specialised civil and geotechnical engineering, and a wholly owned subsidiary of VINCI, the world's largest integrated concessions and construction group.