“Aging workforce.” Frequently tossed around in human resources discussions, this term represents a great concern for many engineering companies. Since the early 2000s, futurists and analysts have painted a dire portrait of entire industries and technologies lost because of a deluge of retirements. According to a 2013 survey by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), 38 percent of U.S. nuclear professionals will soon be eligible to retire.
To counteract this eventuality, the entire industry mobilized a concerted effort to build young professionals and encourage the next generation of engineers. We’ve seen incredible resources devoted to science, technology, engineering and mathematics in elementary, middle and high schools. Through NEI, the nuclear industry forged partnerships with 35 two-year colleges, establishing nuclear technology certification programs to build the young workforce.
At TerraPower, we find great value in juxtaposing seasoned professionals with newly minted graduates. These exchanges are critical to passing along operation-based knowledge and experience to the next generation. Moreover, some of our greatest innovations have come from the intense, creative discussions that take place between these two groups. That’s part of why we maintain an active internship program and why we encourage our employees to participate in supporting local students, helping out at local schools or contributing to community fairs.
It’s also why we support initiatives like Nuclear Science Week. This year, our hometown of Seattle is hosting this weeklong celebration of the nuclear industry. On Oct. 16 and 17, we kicked things off with a two-day conference attended by educators, high school students, boy and girl scouts, and members of the public. A few of TerraPower’s own employees participated on panels about the medical, manufacturing and aerospace applications of nuclear technology. We see these experiences as important opportunities to collaborate with other industry leaders and encourage future leaders in our field.
If a recent study by CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists International is any indication, our strategies to foster the next generation are working. Their research indicates that in the class of 2015 high school seniors, 97 percent plan to pursue some form of higher education and 73 percent know which career they want to pursue. The best news? The number one intended major and the number two chosen profession is engineering. NEI’s college program demonstrates success as well. It reported that enrollment in two-year nuclear programs grew from 100 in 2008 to 1,500 in 2013, with nearly 500 graduates in 2012.
We at TerraPower firmly believe the future of the nuclear industry lies with today’s students, and we see a bright future ahead.