Trudy Harrison: The nuclear industry is a future worth working towards – and developing for
The nuclear industry is firing up for an exciting future, so the government needs to develop a strategy to deliver the next generation of skilled workers, writes Trudy Harrison
Over the next decade, the nuclear industry in the UK has the potential to present 100,000 employment opportunities. The construction of Hinkley Point C in Somerset, Wylfa Newydd in Wales, and Moorside in Cumbria will create 50,000 jobs and 3,000 permanent roles. On top of this, worldwide investment in the nuclear industry is set to hit £930bn in the next 20 years.
All this suggests a positive economic future and opportunity to combat the unemployment rate in the UK. But here is the problem: our nuclear workforce is ageing and the expertise of that workforce is in decommissioning not constructing.
Of the 16,000-people employed by the nuclear industry in Cumbria, 14,707 are from my constituency of Copeland. The construction of Moorside alone will introduce 20,000 employment opportunities, so this issue is particularly key to the people in my area.
Within my constituency, the National College for Nuclear (NCfN) has opened a northern hub based at Lakes College. The NCfN defines itself as “a partnership between industry, national regulators, skills bodies and training providers” and aims to revolutionise the way training is delivered while maintaining the UK’s global reputation for “top quality, safe, reliable civil and defence operations” with a top system and workforce.
It is doing this through the use of virtual and augmented reality technology to replicate a ‘live’ nuclear working environment, allowing behaviours to be trialled and refined in a safe, risk-free setting. Its aim is to train the next generation of nuclear workers, in partnership with organisations such as EDF Energy, Sellafield Ltd and the University of Cumbria.
The skill sets of the current nuclear workforce are fast being outstripped by the economic developments of the industry. To best take advantage of these positive financial and employment opportunities available, we need to adapt to the new needs of this industry. This involves introducing the next generation to relevant skills and abilities to be able to produce a high-quality level of work.
The number of full-time university students studying STEM subjects has increased by 32% since 2007-8. There is clear evidence that there is an increased interest in STEM subjects among the younger generation. If used properly, this could fill the large need for new workers in the nuclear sector, but we need to engage them at a younger age.
We need to work to create a clear alternative pathway into the nuclear industry that has a high level of support similar to that given to the pathway to university. This works with the need for further appreciation of the genuine option of apprenticeships. It is important for schools to offer the same amount of support to those choosing to take that path as to those choosing university.
Schools also need to work to further educate young people about the fact that there is an opportunity for more than just engineers in the nuclear industry – there is a need for researchers, technicians, operators and others. The nuclear industry thrives on a large range of skill sets; it is an industry for all.
There is space for the country and for young people to grow within the nuclear industry – they are codependent. The country needs young people to become the next workforce with relevant skills so that we can follow the economic development of the industry and gain the most from it.
In the same way, the country needs to be further committed to the nuclear industry, and to education and training for roles within it, in order for young people to take an interest and get involved.
The nuclear industry is a future worth working towards – and developing for.
Trudy Harrison is Conservative MP for Copeland, member of the Education Select Committee and vice-chair of the Nuclear Energy APPG