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Quest for competence: developing skills in the nuclear industry

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How can project professionals develop a career in the nuclear industry? Jean Llewellyn OBE explains.

The National Skills Academy for Nuclear (NSAN) is the lead strategic skills body for the nuclear industry in the UK. It is led by its employer members to stimulate, coordinate and enable excellence in skills to support the nuclear programme in the UK.

Workforce challenge

This is an important time for the nuclear industry in the UK. As we move ever closer to towards a nuclear renaissance, it is vital thatwe have the skilled workforce that we need to deliver the new nuclear programme to time and to budget, and to deliver it safely alongside existing operations and decommissioning activities.

This is proving to be a significant challenge in terms of growing and maintaining the nuclear skills base so that the UK nuclear programme can be effectively delivered. Thanks to a collaborative effort between industry, government and skills bodies, however, this challenge is being addressed.

As a result, it is ensuring that high-quality careers, jobs and supply chain opportunities can be secured for UK individuals and companies. Key to addressing these challenges is having accurate labour market intelligence (LMI) on which to base skills strategies and plans.

The Nuclear Workforce Assessment Report 2014* has been collated by Cogent on behalf of the Nuclear Energy Skills Alliance with funding from the Nuclear Industrial Partnership. It is now being used as the basis for skills planning by industry, government, skills bodies, training providers, etc, to effectively plan the skills requirements of the sector.

The NWA has identififed a number of skills ‘pinch points’ for the nuclear industry. Of particular interest to this readership will be the identification of the project and programme management skills area. The assessment has identififed that in order to meet demand, an increment of 130 technical project managers per annum and 600 professional project managers per annum is required until 2021.

This provides a great opportunity for project professionals, and organisations looking to contract with the nuclear sector. Working on a nuclear-related project does come with additional requirements, however. There are various courses on offer via the NSAN’s High Quality Provider Network (HQPN) to aid with the ‘nuclearisation’ of experienced project managers interested in working in nuclear.

A number of the HQPN providers deliver APM-accredited courses with the addition of a bespoke nuclear context. Short courses include the Award for Nuclear Industry Awareness and the Project Management Module of the Certififcate of Nuclear
Professionalism. Longer courses include the Project Management Nuclearisation Course and the Nuclear Project Management & Control Foundation Degree.

For people looking to develop a career in nuclear project management, there is also a Project Management Higher Apprenticeship via APM. Qualififed and experienced Regulation 12 of the Office for Nuclear Regulation covers the requirement for ‘duly authorised and other suitably qualififed and experienced persons’ on all nuclear licensed sites, a wellestablished process.

The ‘suitably qualified’ element of this is the most straightforward part of this process because relevant qualifi cations can be recorded on a secure database. Launched in 2011, the Nuclear Skills Passport is used by supply chain companies to record and demonstrate the skills and training of employees and contractors. Demonstrating the ‘experienced’ element is more challenging, especially for the supply chain.

Simply counting years of experience has several major challenges:

  • Does having years of experience in a job necessarily prove that an individual is competent in that role?
  • Having a requirement for a certain number of years’ experience in a role disadvantages certain individuals, for example, women who may have a career break to have children.
  • How does the supply chain gain and demonstrate the relevant ‘experience’?

As a result of these challenges, the industry has worked with NSAN to develop an alternative approach. It was decided to explore the possibility of a system to demonstrate and record ‘competence’ rather than simply experience.

Specialists from across the nuclear industry have worked together to create a ‘Competency Framework’ in order to provide a common language of competence across the industry. The aim of the framework is to support:

  • Quality and performance improvements;
  • Effective working between companies; and
  • The transfer of skills across the industry.

This framework consists of core behaviours and knowledge; technical competencies based on disciplines such as science and project management; and business enablers such as management and commercial.
The newly launched Competency Framework includes a project management framework.

This project management framework has been developed through the licensing of the established APM standards, which have been further contextualised for nuclear. Contextualisation has been achieved by working with experienced project managers from the sector (themselves APM members) to ensure the framework meets requirements.

The dedicated framework supports the development of project management competence in a variety of nuclear organisational areas.

From project to partnership

While the initial competency work was started through the National Nuclear Gateway project, it is now being continued through the Nuclear Industrial Partnership (Nuclear IP). All of the training and skills interventions developed and delivered through the Nuclear IP fall within the scope of the government’s Employer Ownership of Skills policy that places employers as the key customer, responsible for determining their skills needs and shaping the training system and interventions developed to meet these needs.

The natural extension of this is that employers also play a central role in evaluation. Within the Nuclear IP programme, there is a named employer lead, the government’s principal contact, with whom the employer will review the e­ffectiveness of the solutions that it invests in. This positions the employer as the key customer, revolutionising how we as a sector directly influence and make use of the national skills policy to support the nuclear programme.

Regular discussions with chairs of the various industrial partnerships are part of the English skills landscape, as are direct approaches to the nominated employer leads for each of the skills interventions. What is working is constantly checked and its impact is assessed. This requires considerable commitment from employers, but the potential gains for the sector are huge.

Another important activity being progressed through the Nuclear IP is the constant updating and scrutiny of LMI. As interventions are implemented, an important strand of the LMI work is to understand the impact that these interventions are having in filling gaps or developing the required capabilities.

The e­ffectiveness of individual training interventions forms just one part of the jigsaw. The industry, through the Nuclear IP, is investing substantial time and expert resource to track and understand the progress that is being made and is reporting this at the highest levels of government and the nuclear industry through the Nuclear Industry Council.

Jean Llewellyn, chief executive of National Skills Academy for Nuclear & Nuclear Manufacturing (NSAN), spoke at the 2017 APM Project Management Conference Manchester on addressing the need for developing skills. According to Jean, the nuclear sector has an ambitious programme over the coming decades. To address this employers from across the sector are working together via organisations such as NSAN to encourage the uptake of STEM subjects in schools and universities and also to collectively promote the broad range of career opportunities and skills needs in the sector. This includes transferable skills areas such as: Project management; HR; Financial management, etc, for example where skills and expertise developed in sectors such as oil and gas or engineering can be utilised in nuclear. NSAN are working to support and help the supply chain to develop the skills and capabilities required to successfully support this growing UK nuclear programme.

High quality training

To develop and retain knowledge across the nuclear industry, easy access to high-quality training and learning is of great importance. It is also of benefit if this training can be made available before individuals arrive at a nuclear-licensed site. There have been two key areas of development led by employers via NSAN to address this:

  • High quality provider network: This 70-strong network has significantly increased the availability of high-quality training for the nuclear sector.
  • Nuclear industry online learning portal:  An innovative online learning portal has been created for the nuclear industry to enable the effcient exchange, maintenance and updating of training resources. It is called Nuclear Training Network and it already has more than 9,000 users.



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