Key figures from across UK Nuclear have come together at a landmark event to own the skills challenge that faces the sector.  ‘Building Skills for the Nation’s Nuclear Capability’ took place at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, London, (25 May), providing an opportunity for senior ministers, government officials, Industry CEO’s and academia, in both civil and defence, to work together to tackle critical skill issues.

It is the first time the sector has come together at this scale, reflecting the significance of the problem and the size of the opportunity.

The skills demand is growing across the civil and defence sectors, driven by continuing and expanding defence programmes and the growth of nuclear power with Hinkley, Sizewell, and the anticipated future deployment of SMR technology.  Addressing a challenge of this scale requires sector-wide collaborative commitment and urgent action.  In a seminal moment, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak sent the following message to conference participants:

“The UK’s defence and civil nuclear sectors are hugely important – for our security, our energy needs and our prosperity. That’s why we have made ambitious commitments through the Integrated Review Refresh and Powering Up Britain, which will help to deliver on our priority to grow the economy, while also sharpening our technological edge and supporting investment across the whole of the UK. Our brilliant nuclear workforce is at the heart of this and so we will support them to make sure they have the skills needed to match our level of ambition.”

Hosted by Simon Bowen, Chair of Great British Nuclear, the programme featured keynotes from James Cartlidge MP, Minister for Defence Procurement, Andrew Bowie MP, Minister for Nuclear and Networks and Rear Admiral Simon Asquith CB OBE, Director of Submarines.   These were followed by a more detailed outline of the challenges provided by Director General Net Zero, Nuclear and International, Lee McDonough and Senior Responsible Officer for the Defence Nuclear Enterprise, Julie Morris, OBE.

Two interesting panels formed the core of the afternoon session, (featuring two former NSSG Chairs Fiona Rayment Chief Technical Officer for NNL and Corhyn Parr, CEO of Nuclear Waste Services, as well as the Head of the NSSG Strategic Support Service, Beccy Pleasant).  The focus for the first was retaining today’s talent and the second attracting and developing tomorrow’s talent.  

A key message from the event focussed on building on the firm foundations that already exist, supporting the leadership and coordination of the skills space provided by the NSSG.

The development of a cross-government Nuclear Skills Taskforce was discussed, this newly formed group would help to remove barriers to the delivery of fast and efficient solutions to the nation’s challenges in securing skills for our nuclear sector.  Expression of interest for participation in the taskforce should be forwarded through to NSSG Co-Chair Julie Morris.

The event closed with a clear ‘call for action’ by Simon Bowen, who reminded delegates that the challenge for skills is here and now and whilst we wait for the final parts of the jigsaw to slot in place, any delay will only exacerbate future skills challenges.  He invited leaders not to wait for others to solve the challenges, but to coalesce around the collective challenge.   There is enough certainty in the work of existing defence and civil programmes to act now, act boldly and act collaboratively to get ahead of the curve in acquiring and developing skills to address our nation’s security, energy security and climate change emergency.  He challenged the audience to take action today in the following areas:-

Simon Bowen then proposed four sector-wide commitments which the audience were invited to contribute to, sponsor and share within their own supply chains.  Initial draft versions of this included support in the following areas:-

These will be refined and shared with participants next week

The NSSG will take the outputs from the conference and review them against our existing delivery plan, adapting and building to take account of key issues raised. 

Speaking after the event, NSSG Co-Chair Julie Morris OBE commented: 

“It was great to see the level of commitment from everybody in the room - working together to tackle the issues. The role of the NSSG stood out as a key vehicle to get things done and to help us all to secure the skills we need.  We look forward to working with everybody in our community on this exciting and very important work.”

The NSSG and WiN UK have both been striving to achieve a more diverse workforce for a number of years. Both recognise that the sector is on a journey, seeking to become more innovative to achieve the productivity gains needed to be a competitive contributor to the UK energy mix. 

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The Nuclear Skills Strategy Group is the employer-led Nuclear Industry Skills lead and provides ‘one voice’ to government.
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