Boosting nuclear knowledge in schools

plays a crucial role in building the workforce of the future

We are delighted to be featured in this week's copy of the New Civil Engineer. You can read the article here.

Across the UK, businesses of all shapes, sizes and sectors face increasing competition for talent. But the big question is: does the country – with its long-standing skills gap in a number of industries – have the foundations to build a workforce which can meet our economic and environmental ambitions?


Beccy Pleasant is head of nuclear skills at not-for-profit skills specialist Cogent Skills

Ensuring our school-leavers have a strong understanding of science, tech, engineering and maths (Stem) is increasingly important for them to access a wide range of jobs. Choices made at GCSE have a huge impact on the next stages of their education – unfortunately, this is leaving too few college and university graduates with the core skills to meet industry’s needs.

This is particularly true in the nuclear sector, which employs more than 100,000 people in the UK and is a significant component of the national economy.

Indeed, nuclear faces a perfect storm in developing future talent with the combination of a historic lack of investment, an ageing workforce and the government’s aspirations for growth in civil and defence (due to the drive to reach net zero and national security concerns). This means the sector must increase its recruitment levels by 300% at a time of fierce competition for talent.

Sector-wide collaboration rather than competition is clearly the only sustainable solution to these challenges. As such, the UK’s nuclear industry has come together as the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group (NSSG) – a collaboration between the major employers, focused on addressing the sector’s key skills challenges – and has partnered with curriculum specialists Developing Experts to create range of tools for teachers and students.

The resources are designed to help young people increase their “science capital” before embarking on the careers. Leading employers – including National Nuclear Laboratory, Rolls Royce, Cavendish Nuclear, Nuclear Waste Services, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, Frazer-Nash, EDF Energy and Magnox – are supporting the initiative.

So far, the tools have been delivered to more than 1,000 schools across the UK through an innovative online learning platform. They show young people from all backgrounds that what they learn in science lessons can apply directly to real careers in the nuclear sector, inspiring them to study Stem subjects and consider science-linked careers – which will, in turn, boost the UK’s long-term talent pipeline.

It achieves this through highlighting the real-world industrial applications of the science curriculum, introducing young people to the exciting opportunities available in nuclear and the wider science sector. The programme delivers these benefits on a scale no single organisation could achieve and since they were launched last term the resources have been met with a hugely positive response from students and teachers alike. More employers are now working with the NSSG to support and expand the programme.

Aside from increasing important technical know-how, these resources also challenge stereotypes and negative perceptions of the industry, as well as shining a much-needed light on the range of fulfilling nuclear careers available. Moreover, they have also been specifically designed to empower teachers with the confidence and knowledge to bring nuclear science into the classroom.

As a result of this work, thousands of young people have already seen first-hand how nuclear science is an exciting and vital part of the UK’s future economy. Harnessing the power of collaboration to demonstrate how studying science and related subjects can be pivotal in helping them secure a rewarding career in the future is also being demonstrated.

Given the challenge we face, this initiative and others like it will be critical if the UK is to play its part in both tackling the climate crisis as well as making the most of its economic potential in the years to come.