Nuclear Skills Strategy Group

23 Sep 2020

YGN Futuresight - NSSG Shadow Theme Leads, Sector Transferability


The Nuclear Sector Deal (NSD) was published in June 2018 and is part of the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy. The Deal sets out the vision for growth of the nuclear industry in the UK with closer collaboration between the industry and Government and is based on five elements. The Nuclear Skills Strategy Group (NSSG), as the Nuclear Industry Skills lead, has been tasked with delivering the People element of the NSD.

"As part of the YGN Futuresight series, we asked the Shadow Theme Leads to tell us more about the exciting plans they have in place for delivering the NSD targets. In this article, Sarah Grayston, Assistant Chief Engineer at Jacobs, shares with us future plans for her theme area: Sector Transferability.

The Nuclear Skills Gap – A Cause for Action

I first heard the term the ‘Nuclear Skills Gap’ shortly after I began my career as a graduate in the Nuclear industry and was usually coupled with my new colleagues telling me how I had joined the industry at ‘the right time’. At the time I wasn’t really sure what this term meant, let alone how it could potentially end up affecting my career. Having studied Aerospace Engineering at University, the idea of a career in nuclear had never really crossed my mind, indeed I barely knew the difference between fission and fusion! That was until the economic downturn of 2008 forced me to re-evaluate what my career in engineering might look like and to seek job prospects outside of the Aerospace industry due to its rapid decline.

It was in my flurry of applications for jobs, that I was lucky enough to stumble across what was then Serco and now Jacobs, in a role providing Independent Nuclear Safety Advice to the Ministry of Defence as part of the UK’s Royal Navy Nuclear Submarine Programme. And so began my career in the Nuclear industry, one that I am privileged to say has been rewarding, full of opportunity and has never had a dull moment. I’m proud to be playing a small part in helping ensure the safe operation of the Royal Navy’s Submarine Fleet and ultimately in support of the defence of the UK. So much so, I still continue to work in this role today!  

However, fast forward some 10 years later and the ‘Skills Gap’ still remains a term I often hear, and have actually used myself, when discussing the issues facing the Nuclear industry today. We are at a critical time for the nuclear industry in the UK, with the ever increasing drive towards Net Zero for which Nuclear will form a significant part and if this issue is not addressed, it could have serve consequences for the industry.  

Not being one to sit back when there is a problem to be solved (typical engineer!), when the call for the search for Shadow Theme Leads came from the YGN, I saw this as a great and unique opportunity to play my part in helping to ensure that the nuclear industry is equipped to overcome the challenges it faces and thrive. Ultimately helping to make a difference for the next generation of young professionals entering the nuclear industry. 

My theme within the NSSG is Sector Transferability and is led by David Boath, Chair of the ECITB Nuclear Sector. The theme vision is to:

“Enable efficient deployment and industry transfer (within/between sectors) to ensure a competent, enthused and innovative nuclear workforce, sufficient to meet the sector needs.”

This theme recognises that while significant work is underway to reduce the Nuclear Skills Gap, it may be sometime before the industry sees the tangible benefit of these efforts come to bear. Therefore, the Sector Transferability theme looks firstly to see how improvements can be made to allow the existing nuclear workforce to move more easily within the sector to respond to peaks in demand of various roles, for instance those currently in demand by the construction phase of New Build; and secondly, looks at how to improve transferability from other sectors into nuclear, something which has been perceived as difficult to do, in order to utilise transferable skills and enhance diversity of thought.

Following a working group at the NSSG Skills Summit held in March this year, three further sub-themes were identified as areas in which to focus on this coming year, in order to help deliver the theme’s vision. These were Leadership and Culture, Security and Induction, and Competency Frameworks.

Leadership and Culture

This first sub-theme is seen as key to ‘unlocking’ and facilitating the success of the other two sub-themes. It will explore how a commitment can be made by the industry, through effective leadership in organisations, to promote and drive the need for sector transferability. It will also explore what behaviours need to be developed to encourage a ‘transferability culture’ within the sector, such that it becomes the norm, not the exception. There are already a number of good examples within the industry of sector transferability, which this sub-theme will aim to promote to demonstrate the benefits this can bring to organisations, culminating in the presentation of the ‘Case for Change’.

Security and Induction

Security and vetting has long been seen as a barrier to aiding the efficient transfer of people both into and within the sector; however, the actual impact of this on the industry, in terms of cost and time is unknown. This sub-theme aims to bust the myths surrounding security and vetting in order to ascertain the real challenge this brings to the industry.

Furthermore, it is recognised that while every company has its own unique induction process, a high percentage of this is common in nature. This sub-theme will therefore also investigate the feasibility of developing a core induction programme to be used across nuclear employers. This would then enable individuals to carry this core induction with them as they transfer within the industry, conducting only an organisation specific ‘top-up’ each time, thereby helping to reduce this current inefficiency.

Competency Frameworks

The final sub-theme looks at the implementation of common competency frameworks in the sector, in order to drive consistency in the requirements for some job roles. In doing so, this will allow people to transfer more easily in the sector in the same role but with different organisations. There are already some great examples of the use of competency frameworks in the sector, especially in instances where companies are in collaboration, and the aim will be to build upon these in order to understand what best practice in this sub-theme may look like.  

The coming months will focus on the Leadership and Culture sub-theme, ultimately building ‘The Case for Change’ to present to the sector. This will aim to articulate the benefits of transferability in terms of culture, cost, efficiency, innovation and critical thinking and build upon experience from other industries. By doing so it is hoped to gain a commitment from the industry to actively promote and support transferability both within and into the sector.

Also, there will be a need to revaluate the immediate priorities for this theme due to the impact of COVID-19. Now more than ever there is a need to work together to ensure skills aren’t lost within the industry, especially those who are early within their careers such as apprentices. This is something which sector transferability will play a key part in, helping to ensure that we continue to be prepared for what the future might bring.

All in all, the first four months of being a Shadow Theme lead has been a challenging and rewarding experience and I look forward to helping to deliver the Transferability Theme plan in the coming year."

Original blog.

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