It Takes Extra Energy to Find Talented Nuclear Workers

Apr 3, 2008
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

I’ve never quite understood the difference between fusion and fission. Be honest, neither have you.

Sitting in a high-school classroom, your mind probably wandered as your teacher lectured on the basics of a split atom.

Really, why should we have to learn about depleted uranium when those smart kids in the front row seemed so much more eager to learn?

The problem is that today, there are fewer and fewer students entering college programs for nuclear engineers. It’s not as though our nation’s nuclear power plants are entirely staffed with the likes of Homer Simpson. Still, finding enough quality nuclear talent could turn into a problem that could grow at the speed of light.

Just do the math: the United States has 104 operating commercial nuclear power plants but not nearly enough college students coming through the door each year.

According to Rob Dromgoole, executive search consultant for Battelle, this mathematical challenge is compounded by a two-fold recruiting challenge:

— First, there are not too many college training programs for nuclear engineers in the United States. He and his team of recruiters reach out to nuclear engineering students at Texas A&M, MIT, UC Berkeley, Michigan, and only a handful of other schools across the country.

— Second, once he taps into that limited talent pool of college students, he then has to trim his list of available talent once again, whittling out any non-U.S. citizens.

“We’re trying find candidates who have the ability to obtain a Department of Energy Security Clearance, which requires U.S. citizenship. This clearance is required due to the national security-related focus of our research and work. Because there have been 35 new applications to build new nuclear power plants, and there are so few schools graduating students, and our average age is about 50 … this is a problem. How do we fill that talent gap?”

Working for Battelle, Dromgoole and his team are tasked with finding this critical talent. Battelle, which has 21,000 employees in more than 120 locations around the world, conducted approximately $4 billion in research activity last year. It serves more than 800 federal, state, and local government agencies, along with national and international corporations. At the non-profit Battelle, they work on “fundamental science,” or research that otherwise might be ignored by corporate shareholders.

The company that began in the 1930s to develop materials research for the U.S. iron and steel industries now owns more than two-million square feet of laboratories in several locations. Battelle performs cutting-edge research in national security; environment, energy, and transportation; and health and life sciences.

“We’re conducting critical research that might not be done at a private organization. With a national lab, we invest taxpayer dollars in research and work to commercialize the technology to give it back to the marketplace. We could turn around and provide the intellectual property we develop to a General Motors, for example, to help them develop better hybrid cars,” says Dromgoole.

“Those GM shareholders might not have wanted to pay for the costly R&D otherwise,” he says, adding that this is “critical work” for our nation’s security and energy needs.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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