One of the duties of the ANS president is to visit with American Nuclear Society student sections. As some of you know, I have been doing this both in person and virtually. Although meeting via Zoom and other platforms is easier in terms of scheduling and travel, there is nothing like being able to interact face to face. Visiting student sections in person has been the highlight of my time as president. As I have stated on several occasions, the enthusiasm and excitement I have seen among the nuclear engineering students in the U.S. is nothing short of exhilarating!
When we think of workforce planning, those of us who have had long associations with universities naturally think first of undergraduate and graduate nuclear engineering programs at our universities, but this is of course only a part of the overall solution. The first—and in many ways the most important—part of workforce development is getting our nation’s youth excited about nuclear science and technology.
The ANS program Navigating Nuclear (ans.org/navigatingnuclear) is one thing we are doing to help educate young people and inspire them to be professionals in our industry. We need our young people to see nuclear science and technology as a growth industry that is a fun and rewarding place to work, as well as a place where they can make the world a better place. When I talk with students, the one thing that seems to have the biggest impact is that nuclear science and technology is going to give them an opportunity to change the world in a positive way. We need to take advantage of the strong desire of people today to do good. Most of us felt it when we got into the business and still have that need today.
The other aspect of building a workforce is understanding that our field is one of the broadest areas out there. The industry requires an incredibly diverse set of technical capabilities, and we need workers at all levels—people with special skills: welders, mechanical engineers, operators, researchers, electricians, and so many others. This is one of the things that draws people to our business, the ability to work in the same industry but to be able to do so many new and different things. It also means that we need to train and excite a lot of people who are not nuclear engineers. This can be a real challenge, because we do things a little differently in our field. We have a focus on developing and maintaining a safety-conscious workforce and have a unique set of standards to which we must work. This includes not only what we do but how we do it. It is these special aspects of nuclear work that make it exciting and interesting, but it is also something we need to educate and train our new people on. For this reason, ANS is currently investigating the development of a certification program that can support the expansion of the nuclear workforce by providing a method that demonstrates our new workers have the ability to do their jobs, while understanding why nuclear is different.
It is an exciting time to be a nuclear professional, and we all need to be as enthusiastic as the new people who are coming into the business, because we are going to need all our talent—new and old—to achieve the great things planned for our future.