ANS Annual Conference: Workforce issues highlighted

June 24, 2024, 12:00PMNuclear News
The workforce development panel, from left, moderator Amanda Bachmann of Argonne, Lori Brady of NEI, Joseph Stainback of Roane State, Ilana Bowen of Constellation, and Nicole Hughes of Thor Thomas. (Source: ANS)

Industry leaders met this week to discuss the importance of shoring up nontraditional workforce pipelines to support growth in nuclear energy generation in the coming decades.

An executive panel discussed this issue last week at the American Nuclear Society’s 2024 Annual Conference in Las Vegas The industry is working to target community colleges, trade schools, vocational programs, nontraditional students, and a wider variety of educational backgrounds.

“A one-size-fits-all [approach] doesn’t fit anybody,” said panelist Nicole Hughes, director of North America–Nuclear at Thomas Thor, a global workforce solutions company. “Being flexible in our hiring approaches is extremely important. We have to continue to watch market trends, continue to educate employers, educate school boards, and make moves . . . in the right direction.”

Workforce shifts: The nuclear industry is experiencing high levels of attrition—with an increase from 5.9 percent in 2020 to 9.2 percent of its workforce in 2022.

Some of this can be linked to the “great resignation” that happened across all industries following the COVID-19 pandemic that produced a wave of employees who decided to pursue new opportunities and ones that were largely remote, said panelist Lori Brady, senior director of human resources and training and development with the Nuclear Energy Institute.

“Our highest amount of attrition is in our zero-to-five-year service employees. Our next highest is five to 10 [years of service],” Brady said. “What that means is we are seeing the largest amount of turnover in the employees who have the least amount of experience at our facilities. . . . The point is, we have increased turnover in people who are coming [in], who tend to skew a little bit younger, and if we continue to see those levels of attrition and cost associated with that—we have to solve the problem of how to get people in to replace that constant turnover.”

New ideas: Roane State, a community college near Oak Ridge, Tenn., is launching a two-year associate’s degree in nuclear technology, which includes a dual-credit program to draw in high school students. The program aims to build the pipeline for nuclear professionals with a condensed professional training opportunity, explained panelist Joseph Stainback IV, director of Roane State’s nuclear technology program.

Another program from Constellation provides an “outage shadow” opportunity to give prospective employees boots-on-the-ground training during an actual nuclear refueling outage. At the recent Braidwood nuclear plant outage, the company ran its two-week program in collaboration with outage contractors, explained panelist Ilana Bowen, Constellation’s senior workforce development manager. She added that the fleet has committed to putting this program in place at every upcoming outage.

Parting ideas: Asked by moderator Amanda Bachmann, a nuclear engineer at Argonne National Laboratory, to share one action item, the panelists responded with the following:

  • “If you don’t have one, make yourself a LinkedIn profile. Go online. Share. Be active, be visible,” Hughes said. “Go out into your local community. Go outside your 20-mile bubble from your organization and reach out to those communities.”
  • “Understand the barriers that your communities are facing. Go to your community partners and say, ‘What is an access item that we can help support?’” Bowen said.
  • “Don’t retire,” Stainback said. “We need you to give back, whether through a mentorship or through going to the high schools or the middle schools. . . . Take the fear out of nuclear, that’s my personal motto going to the schools.”
  • “Engage in whatever way you can best engage in the workforce conversation,” Brady said. “There’s always a way to engage.”

More from the ANS Annual Conference:

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