No clear answer for nuclear industry’s succession plans

The utility industry is in crisis mode due to its rapidly aging workforce.  Utilities are trying to replace a workforce that could shrink by half through retirements over the next decade. 

The Nuclear Energy Institute did a survey of the nuclear workforce in 2007. The nuclear workforce age distribution has two peaks. The highest peak occurs for workers between the ages of 45 and 65. A smaller peak exists for workers between the ages of 20 and 32.  In between there is a valley of workers between the ages of 32 and 45, the prime ages for workers to move up into management roles.

What this means is that as the boomers retire and the Gen Xers move up the career ladder, the utility industry will hear a big sucking sound creating a huge void in the workforce. Between 2007 and 2012 about 35 percent or 19,600 current nuclear utility workers will be eligible to retire. Over the same five-year period it is projected that an additional 11 percent or 6,300 workers will leave the workforce due to attrition.

The unique demands of utility work, which include the basics of electronics, math, hydraulics, engineering, working outdoors in all kinds of weather, and climbing poles and towers (often exceeding 200 feet) presents a daunting challenge to even the most gifted recruiters. At risk, in addition to helping solve the world’s energy needs is security. The U.S. and other developed countries count on nuclear engineers in shaping the military have and defense structures contributions to national security.

The problem facing the utility and in particular the nuclear industry isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact efforts to recruit more young workers aren’t even a reasonable solution: not many universities in the world offer degree programs in nuclear engineering.   That makes this shortage much more threatening than what occurred with technology workers during the dot-com boom in the late 1990s. Back then, the shortage of computer science graduates was localized to the United States while India and China were pumping out computer scientists, feeding the world’s appetite. 

Today, the world’s educational and training institutions do not have the capacity or resources to keep up with the current demand much less projected future demand.  New degree programs will not be able to start up quickly because of a shortage of qualified faculty and the cost of the infrastructure required to start a program.


Ira S Wolfe