The 'New-to-Nuclear' Worker Power-up Plan: How to Ensure a Smooth and Safe Transition to Field Work

Posted on July 29, 2015
Posted By: Guy Starr
Topic: Nuclear

For the last decade, the nuclear industry has been engaged in a focused effort to address the looming talent gap as a large number of baby boomer workers reach retirement age. In that time, significant progress has been made in raising awareness around the issue and developing new educational curriculums and partnerships. Work still remains, but the industry is increasing the number of new workers entering the field. Efforts must be made to ensure that new-to-nuclear workers are as ready as possible to take center stage.

Increasing the number of qualified workers available to support nuclear operations and maintenance work will require collaboration, customization, and creative problem solving in three key ways.  

Tailor Training and Orientation Programs

The nuclear industry is highly regulated, nuclear plant managers need to do more than recite the rulebook to build cultures of productivity and safety.   This is especially true for “new-to-nuclear” workers. While new workers may have all of the necessary certifications and clearances to work on a nuclear site, there’s a stark difference between learning about work in a controlled educational setting and actually getting out in the field.

Plant managers need to work with contractors to ensure that any new-to-nuclear workers receive tailored training and orientation programs. While the review of rules and regulations is essential, model programs move beyond this base level and focus on training modules that nurture the culture and mindset necessary to work in the nuclear environment. Participants should complete these programs reporting higher levels of caution and a questioning attitude when performing job tasks.  Successful programs will drive safety and human performance. This type of training program requires careful cooperation between plant managers and contractors to ensure contractor training is consistent with plant requirements.

Encourage Coaching & Mentoring Culture

While initial training and orientation programs help to lay a foundation, it is equally important that workers are exposed to on-the-job training. Formal programs should be developed to achieve this, but equally important is building a culture that encourages coaching and mentoring. Mentorship cultures thrive in an environment where there are high levels of accountability and where learning is not strictly a top-down exercise. Experienced workers should be empowered to correct negative behaviors of new workers and vice-versa. These types of behaviors encourage an open exchange of ideas regardless of title, position, or age. When working with contractors, plant managers should verify that programs are in place to encourage coaching and mentoring and to build relationships between new and experienced workers. 

Establish Goals for New-to-Nuclear Workers

The entire nuclear industry is incentivized to increase the number of trained and qualified nuclear workers. Despite this fact, there is an understandable demand for contractors to provide experienced and proven workers to ensure productivity and efficiency.  Unfortunately, this approach sacrifices long-term needs for immediate results. Minimizing the number of new-to-nuclear workers a contractor uses doesn’t necessarily improve safety, schedule, and quality. It sets up future outages for problems when experienced workers are retired and gone.

In order to address this issue, plant managers and contractors should work toward a collaborative approach that encourages contractors to meet minimum requirements for new-to-nuclear workers during outage work. Formulating an appropriate ratio of new to experienced nuclear workers will help maintain performance and quality while also preserving the future of the industry. Contractors working on multiple sites across the country are on the frontlines of developing and nurturing new talent but need to be supported by utilities with new-to-nuclear worker commitments if these efforts are to be successful. 

The number of new-to-nuclear workers is growing, but the industry needs to cultivate a skilled workforce that can execute work in a safety-conscious work environment.  By working together, utilities and contractors will be in a more favorable position to positively impact these workers and power-up the new-to-nuclear workforce for the future.  

Authored By:
Guy Starr is president of DZ Atlantic, Day & Zimmermann’s open shop construction business unit which services the nuclear, fossil, and process industries. He has more than 30 years of experience in the engineering and construction industry with a career spanning multiple service lines and industries. His early experience with D&Z includes providing leadership for both U.S. and U.K. engineering, procurement, and construction operations. Prior to joining D&Z, Mr. Starr

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July, 29 2015

Ferdinand E. Banks says

I don't see the problem at all. An ignorant president who belongs in show business instead of the White House. Thousands of journalists and ignorant academics providing their readers and students with all sorts of nonsense about energy. An Energy Department with a director - Mr Moniz - who has suggested that exporting precious energy Resources makes sense. Etc, etc and etc.

I dont remember how many reactors the U.S. has, but I suspect that 20 or 30 more should be contemplated. Considering what was done to train people during WW2, and the success experienced, training persons to work in those extra 20 or 30 facilities should be a piece of cake. Should be and would be.

I don't like giving advice to people who are incapable of understanding it - Mr Moniz again - but what is needed for the US is a comprehensive energy strategy. What part will renewables (and alternatives) play in this strategy? I dont know, but I suspect that there will be a place for them, assuming that the U.S. will not be participating in Another war or series of wars on the other side of the World, and thus the subsidies that might be necessary to initiate this part of the action might not be available.

What about the 'mentoring and coaching culture' mentioned in this article? That really sounds good to me. If they had had something like that in the Infantry Leadership School I attended at Fort Ord (California), maybe I wouldn't have been expelled on the last day of the course. Or maybe I would have been expelled and they would have told me why.

July, 31 2015

Malcolm Rawlingson says

A subject near and dear to me Guy. It takes years to gain the necessary experience in nuclear power plants. Nuclear operators have been giving golden handshakes to encourage their older staff to retire early (to save operating costs) with no mechanicm in place to transfer that knowledge to newcomers to the industry. You cannot learn this stuff from books. It must be a boots on the ground approach led by experienced mentors. The kids coming out of nuclear schools are steeped in the theory but have little practical experience. They are smart but not street smart as far as nuclear power goes.

It is not just the new guys and gals joining the plant operators it is all of the support engineering companies that provide valuable services to the operators. These engineers and scientists get even less training than those in the utilities and yet their contribution is critical.

Many newcomers are just thrown in the deep end and expected to pick this stuff up by some kind of osmosis. Training budgets have been pared back to the point where instead of learning from an experienced instructoir you learn from a computer screen using computer based training. It is nowhere near what is required to train the next generation of nuclear professionals.

I was very fortunate to have seen quite a few reactors constructed and commissioned which gave me the opportunity to see the innards of these machines close up and to go places that are simply inaccessible now.

With 43 years and counting in the business I do try to informally impart my knowledge and esxperience to the younger set but there really needs to be a much more formalised approach to the transfer of knowledge and experience to the next generation.

Even Fred would have benefitted from a mentor.Perhaps he would not have been kicked out. Malcolm

August, 01 2015

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Malcolm, the garbage truck that they put me on after my expulsion was parked about 25 minutes from Carmel California. If you want to know wnat that means, see the film HOT SANDS with Taylor and Burton.

Anyway, in theory at least, we should be able to get the nuclear we need once we get the right president. And as far as I am concerned anybody is the right president considering what we have now.

August, 02 2015

Malcolm Rawlingson says

The USA could get The Donald....even that is an improvement. Or we could get Hilary. These candidates could really fire up America....I don't think


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