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From STEM to STEAM: APSCo event outlines creative thinking for nuclear skills from Rolls-Royce SMR

  • Publish Date: Posted 6 months ago
  • Author: Katie Marshall
As an APSCo member, and recent double APSCo Outsource award-winners, we were invited to co-chair an APSCo panel event this week. Adam Ellis, Talent & HR Director at Rolls-Royce SMR, was the guest speaker. RPO1 powered by Morson Group is Rolls-Royce SMR’s recruitment partner, helping the company to meet the challenges of finding the right talent for the huge diversity of roles required to deliver the company’s ambition: up to six factory-built modular nuclear reactors per year to provide clean energy for the UK, and across the world.

Adam’s presentation was illuminating, laying out the challenge we face as a country and as a global community. As the climate crisis continues, energy consumption soars and capacity from our existing energy infrastructure fails to keep pace with demand.

The business case for small modular reactors (SMRs) is compelling. As Adam pointed out, while solar and wind energy harness clean, renewable, natural resources to feed the grid, their usefulness is limited by the lack of reliability, consistency and predictability inherent in weather cycles. Conversely, he explained, nuclear is the ultimate reliable, clean energy. And with a highly regulated and safe nuclear sector in the UK, modular reactors that can be factory built offer a quality-assured, fast-track solution for squaring the circle of achieving net zero in the face of ever-increasing demands on the grid.

The plan is for compact, scalable installations using modular principles. While each installation will be much smaller than the giant power stations we associate with the nuclear sector, the scale of ambition involved in delivering that vision is enormous. With Morson’s help, Rolls-Royce SMR has already recruited the talent it needs to fill 400 new roles since the project was launched less than a year ago, and it was fantastic to hear Adam say that Morson has been doing a ‘cracking job’ of attracting the right candidates. Rolls-Royce SMR aims to fill a further 400 roles before the end of the year, as the company gears up to start working on its first orders in 2023. The burning questions from delegates were where will that talent come from, how will Rolls-Royce SMR work collaboratively with Morson to identify it, and what will be needed to attract candidates to the nuclear sector and the SMR project?

Adam’s response was to highlight the need to think differently about the skills the sector needs and where to find them, particularly in light of the demand on nuclear and engineering skills, and the time it will take to draw down new skills from those still in education. With salaries for sought-after engineering skills resulting in offers of 10-30% above market rates, he pointed out, it is not sustainable for competing employers to keep fishing in the same dwindling pool for the talent they need.

Over the course of a number of responses to questions from delegates, Adam presented two clear strategies for addressing this issue. The first is to transform the employee value proposition (EVP) and position the SMR sector as an innovative, exciting place in which to build a career. He contrasted the world of traditional nuclear build projects, where candidates might expect to spend a lot of time outside on site, working on the project for the design, construction and commissioning phases before moving on, with a very different vision for the SMR industry.

The EVP for Rolls-Royce SMR is all about a diversity of roles for all, moving away from a recruitment strategy that targets nuclear skills to an approach that recruits skills for nuclear. The difference is subtle but important because it’s about debunking myths and opening doors to individuals at every stage of their career. It’s about inviting them to join the clean energy sector, be part of the solution to achieving net zero, and progress in an environment where there is scope for upskilling, re-skilling, multi-skilling and career progression.

That strategy is already working for Rolls-Royce SMR and, at Morson, we are proud to be part of a move to change the narrative on jobs in clean energy and the diverse range of people it needs. Diversity goes beyond skills too: Rolls-Royce SMR has made a clear commitment to recruiting a diverse workforce and has challenged Morson as their recruitment partner to look beyond traditional talent pools, and explore more diverse sources of talent from different places. As a consequence, over the past 12 months, the company has achieved a rise from 12% to 24% in female representation, and ethnic minority representation is at 10.3%.

The other aspect of Rolls-Royce SMR’s game-changing thinking Adam discussed at the APSCo event was the company’s strategy for engaging young people in high school, further education and higher education. The company is working with education providers that will take them beyond the usual milk round of engineering candidates and is combining training and career opportunities with practical thinking, such as providing accommodation for apprentices. Most inspirationally of all, perhaps, Adam stated the company’s aim to evolve the focus on STEM, to a drive to attract candidates from across STEAM disciplines – science, technology, engineering, arts & maths. Why? Because radical, sector-defining change requires creativity and Rolls-Royce SMR has recognised the need for both technical and creative skills in pioneering a new era of clean energy generation. Hearing him speak felt like a pivotal moment for the nuclear sector, where people strategy is central to the commercial and operational vision. And what a vision!

Our aim is to provide clean, affordable energy for all, and you can be part of it. Take a look at the range of nuclear roles we're recruiting for on our Rolls Royce SMR page