Nuclear’s  big on the national agenda right now.  The recent Engineering UK State of the Engineering report highlighted the increasing demand for nuclear engineers that major UK projects will require in the future.  Nuclear will play a bigger role in a ‘balanced mix’ of energy generation in the future but with demand outstripping supply in the skills market, nuclear will have to compete with other sectors for workers with specialist skills or consider sourcing talent from overseas. But why is the nuclear sector becoming so powerful?

Overseas funding is fuelling the UK’s nuclear sector

Continued investment from overseas is opening up current and long-term job opportunities in the UK nuclear industry. Take the most talked about nuclear project in the UK as an example - Hinkley Point C. Hinkley, based in the south west of England, will be the first new nuclear power plant in Britain since 1995 and is mostly being financed by the French energy company EDF. In addition, one-third of the funding is being covered by China General Nuclear (CGN).

The construction of Hinkley has already delivered significant benefits to the national and regional economy by creating jobs and boosting skills with 1,200 workers currently on site.  It’s been anticipated that this, alongside the redevelopment of the UK’s nuclear submarine capability, will drive the nuclear sector’s workforce from 70,000 to 98,000 by 2021. 

Technology to take the nuclear sector forward

Investment is also being made in technology which could transform the economy. Nuclear is one sector which stands to benefit from the Government’s promised £270 million investment in disruptive technologies (as announced in the Spring Budget). The funding will go towards the development of cutting-edge artificial intelligence and robotics systems that can operate in extreme environments, which could have a significant impact on the day-to-day operations of nuclear power plants.  

Ben Hough, Department Manager – Nuclear, Matchtech comments: 

“We are already seeing the use of robotics across the nuclear sector to help with the handling of fuel and hazardous waste.  It will be interesting to see how this area develops across the wider energy sector. As other engineering sectors have experienced, we would anticipate a shift in the kind of skills employers in the sector are looking for towards more technology-based skill sets like electronics and software. But of course the sector will also continue to need people with traditional engineering skill sets.”

Solutions to the skills shortage

In our recent Voice of the Workforce research, we found that engineers believe apprenticeships and the promotion of STEM at school are most effective tools to tackling skills shortages in the future. There are many examples of initiatives within the nuclear sector which are helping promote engineering as a career choice to younger people and investing in the future talent pipeline. One such event is the UK Nuclear Skills Awards which celebrates the achievements of talented apprentices and graduates in the sector.   Ben continues, “We have attended the NSAN awards for the past 5 years. The awards bring together key industry figures and companies to  highlight engineering excellence in graduates and apprentices from around the UK in the Nuclear sector. It has been identified that there is an aging workforce in the Nuclear sector, these awards are a showcase of the nuclear engineers of the future.”

With large projects and a steady stream of investment into the nuclear sector, there are plenty of exciting opportunities for new and experienced engineers to take. But with the sector’s anticipated growth, the industry must continue to promote the career opportunities available in nuclear to the next generation and to those working in other engineering sectors to ensure it has the skills it needs for the future. 

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