Power and passion – attracting a new generation of professionals into nuclear energy
As we celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, Ee Jane Low, Human Factors Engineer at EDF, reflects on her own career path and what will be needed to attract more people into nuclear energy.
Here at EDF, apprentices have a key role to play in our business today and in our future, as we seek to help Britain achieve net zero. In our nuclear business alone, we have hired over 1,800 apprentices and graduates in the last 10 years, in vocations ranging from maintenance and engineering to project controls and commercial. Over 1,100 apprentices have been trained at our nuclear new build project at Hinkley Point C in Somerset, with up to 1,500 apprenticeships due to be created at its sister project at Sizewell C in Suffolk.
Earlier this month the UK Government published its Civil Nuclear Roadmap, reconfirming its ambition to develop up to 24GW of new nuclear capacity by 2050 – more than four times the capacity in operation today – and acknowledging a highly skilled workforce as a key enabler of its ambitions. Figures from the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group suggest that the nuclear workforce will need to double over the next 20 years to meet the government’s ambitions, and a new Nuclear Skills Taskforce has been set up to turbo charge skills activity in the sector.
The UK is not alone in seeing an important role for nuclear in the future energy mix. Geopolitics and increasing demand have put securing energy independence high on every nation’s agenda and at the end of last year at COP28 in Dubai, over 20 nations signed a commitment to triple nuclear capacity by 2050. This means competition for nuclear skills will be high and the work needs to start now on attracting more people into the sector.
In November, I took part in a panel discussion at the World Nuclear Exhibition in Paris alongside industry leaders, including EDF Group Chairman and CEO Luc Rémont, European institutions and international research organisations. More than 23,000 people from 88 countries met at the event to discuss and shape the future of the civil nuclear sector.
It was clear from the discussions that nuclear has a critical role to play on the road to net zero, but the industry has suffered from the stop-start of nuclear projects. In the UK, France, and any country where EDF seeks to play a role in developing nuclear energy, we promote a fleet approach. We know that with the more projects we build, each in turn will benefit from the one before. With this, we can build faster, continuously improve and excel through continuous collective experience, and be effective for the greater good of society.
But to do that, we need people. We need to attract, recruit and retain people with different skillsets at all levels.
Reflecting on my own career, I studied Mechanical Engineering, and opted to focus my degree in nuclear because it promised jobs – I wanted to stand out among thousands of engineering graduates. The job prospect held true. I ended up in the nuclear sector and have spent the past decade working for EDF in the UK, co-founding and chairing EDF’s Young Professionals Network.
While my path into the industry took the traditional route through a nuclear-focused degree, you do not need to have a degree in nuclear to join the sector. This industry requires talents and skills of every shape, size and form, both technical and non-technical.
And this is where apprenticeships come in. Apprenticeships have an important role in creating a pipeline of talent within the nuclear industry. At EDF, we run a range of apprenticeship programmes, not only in nuclear but right across our business, in diverse disciplines from nuclear engineering to project controls, and from business through to cyber security. You can find out more about our programmes here.
Of course, apprenticeships are only part of the answer. We also need to think about how to attract and inspire a new generation of professionals into our industry, at all levels – both young professionals and experienced hires. We need to show why nuclear is exciting. And what could be more exciting than being part of the force that keeps the lights on, electric cars running, whilst securing low carbon energy and building a legacy for generations to come?
STEM outreach is important here, coupled with wider communication to demystify nuclear and to broaden and diversify the recruitment pools. The visitor centres at our nuclear power stations play an important role in this respect, as do our educational outreach programmes.
We also need people working within the industry today to come together and play their part – everyone has a role to play in addressing the skills challenge, be that as a mentor, speaker, role model or advocate.
Personally, I can’t wait to see more talent entering the sector, and at EDF, everyone is welcome.
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