It Takes Extra Energy to Find Talented Nuclear Workers

I’ve never quite understood the difference between fusion and fission. Be honest, neither have you.

Sitting in a high-school classroom, your mind probably wandered as your teacher lectured on the basics of a split atom.

Really, why should we have to learn about depleted uranium when those smart kids in the front row seemed so much more eager to learn?

The problem is that today, there are fewer and fewer students entering college programs for nuclear engineers. It’s not as though our nation’s nuclear power plants are entirely staffed with the likes of Homer Simpson. Still, finding enough quality nuclear talent could turn into a problem that could grow at the speed of light.

Just do the math: the United States has 104 operating commercial nuclear power plants but not nearly enough college students coming through the door each year.

According to Rob Dromgoole, executive search consultant for Battelle, this mathematical challenge is compounded by a two-fold recruiting challenge:

— First, there are not too many college training programs for nuclear engineers in the United States. He and his team of recruiters reach out to nuclear engineering students at Texas A&M, MIT, UC Berkeley, Michigan, and only a handful of other schools across the country.

— Second, once he taps into that limited talent pool of college students, he then has to trim his list of available talent once again, whittling out any non-U.S. citizens.

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“We’re trying find candidates who have the ability to obtain a Department of Energy Security Clearance, which requires U.S. citizenship. This clearance is required due to the national security-related focus of our research and work. Because there have been 35 new applications to build new nuclear power plants, and there are so few schools graduating students, and our average age is about 50 … this is a problem. How do we fill that talent gap?”

Working for Battelle, Dromgoole and his team are tasked with finding this critical talent. Battelle, which has 21,000 employees in more than 120 locations around the world, conducted approximately $4 billion in research activity last year. It serves more than 800 federal, state, and local government agencies, along with national and international corporations. At the non-profit Battelle, they work on “fundamental science,” or research that otherwise might be ignored by corporate shareholders.

The company that began in the 1930s to develop materials research for the U.S. iron and steel industries now owns more than two-million square feet of laboratories in several locations. Battelle performs cutting-edge research in national security; environment, energy, and transportation; and health and life sciences.

“We’re conducting critical research that might not be done at a private organization. With a national lab, we invest taxpayer dollars in research and work to commercialize the technology to give it back to the marketplace. We could turn around and provide the intellectual property we develop to a General Motors, for example, to help them develop better hybrid cars,” says Dromgoole.

“Those GM shareholders might not have wanted to pay for the costly R&D otherwise,” he says, adding that this is “critical work” for our nation’s security and energy needs.

Elaine Rigoli has nearly 15 years of experience managing content and community for various B2B and consumer websites. Elaine has written thousands of business and technology articles and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and eWeek, among other publications.

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2 Comments on “It Takes Extra Energy to Find Talented Nuclear Workers

  1. I sure didn’t pay attention when the subject was taught but you made chimes go off for me – this is one thing I LOVE about sourcing – each new job gives me an opportunity to learn about another industy – not alot, mind you, but enough to sate my curiosity and keep things interesting around here…I remmeber my early days in sourcing and discovering what they were doing at ParcXerox in nanotechnology – I couldn’t get enough reading about it while I was chasing down those physics folks – I have to physically restrain myself from lingering over those fascinating research papers and patents and articles and nowadays, BLOGS that reveal so much…and this list goes on.

    The shortage of engineers across the board in this and in the defense sector (so many in that 50s range with a real lack of replacement crop) is a real threat to our national and economic security. Bill Gates asked a question last month over on LinkedIn about what we could do as a nation to encourage more people to study the sciences and thousands answered…

    But in the short term, and I know Rob knows this – the available talent is working inside those 104 plants and for the most part one sure way to find them is to call in and ask! It’s so simple it’s stupid but believe me, it works!

    I really enjoy your articles Elaine. Thanks.

    Maureen

  2. There are valuable lessons to be learned from the nuclear/conventional power industry. It is one of the first large industries to hit significant workforce aging issues. It is also an industry where there is a long training ramp-up for new employees. So much so that the industry for years has found it easier to head-hunt experience than develop new talent. A consequence is the average age in the industry crept up and up while net gain was zero. Other industries should take heed and also learn from the the comprehensive efforts the industry is undertaking to solve the problem. The Nuclear Energy Institute and Center for Energy Workforce Development is actively getting all parties moving in the same direction. For many it will be the recruiting challenge of a lifetime.

    -Ed

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