Skip to content

HR Director features in Nuclear Institute’s journal

The Office for Nuclear Regulation’s Director of Human Resources wrote a journal piece for the Nuclear Institute’s journal, Nuclear Future. You can read the journal entry below, which appeared in the November / December 2018 edition. 

Securing the talent pipeline

The Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) reports on steps it is taking to address the nuclear skills shortage


  • Introducing new recruitment pipelines to address talent needs in key areas.
  • Creating the ONR Academy: a physical and virtual space to train staff at all levels which doubles our in-house training capability.
  • Exiting Euratom: Ensuring we meet UK’s international safeguards obligations by upskilling safeguards officers and recruiting more safeguards specialists.
  • Regulating new technologies: building our in-house capability and making good progress on preparing for how we regulate new technologies.


It is no secret the UK nuclear industry is facing a skills shortage. The government’s Nuclear Sector Deal, published in June 2018, identified a need for more than 100,000 workers in the civil and defence sectors by 2021, up from 87,000, due in part to an ageing workforce and a renewed focus on nuclear energy. There will be a particular need for workers with generic skills (‘skills for nuclear’), nuclear skills and Subject Matter Experts.

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) is no exception to the trend. Over recent years, the average tenure of staff in ONR has declined from 13 years in 2014 to 11 years in 2017. In order to replace those staff retiring, and also to satisfy the numbers required to meet changing industry demands, we need to increase staff numbers by 5% every year. We are doing well; since 2014, ONR has grown by 27%, from 478 staff to a current figure of over 600 and, in the last year alone, we have recruited 53 technical specialists.

Our continuing demographic challenges coupled with the increasing industry demands will mean that we will have to continue to recruit nuclear specialists to replace retiring staff and to sustain net growth at the required 5% per annum which will be informed by a more mature workforce planning activity.

Recognising the capacity challenge

Our stakeholders reflected on our capability challenges in the 2017 Stakeholder Survey, with only 28% of those who responded believing that we have the capacity and capability we need for the next five years.

Significant progress in addressing these challenges has been made over the last several years, but perhaps has gone unseen. We have held many successful recruitment campaigns to bring the right skills mix to our inspector and corporate support services teams, and built resilience by growing our workforce to meet the new regulatory demands placed upon us.

The challenge is not only about numbers, however. We need staff with the right mix of skills and experience, and for this we have had to be innovative in both our recruitment and staff development activities – achieving recognition recently with our recruitment team being shortlisted for the prestigious HR Excellence Awards and CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) Awards in the ‘most effective recruitment strategy’ categories.

New talent pipelines

As part of this innovative approach, we have introduced additional pipelines to guarantee future supply in the key areas required. These pipelines include the introduction of the Associate and Equivalence Inspector roles.

Recognising there are benefits to looking outside of nuclear at other high hazard sectors, with similar levels of regulation, the Equivalence Inspector roles allow individuals from other industries who have technical knowledge but need to gain sector-specific experience, to join the nuclear industry and progress on a pathway of training and development to become a Nuclear Inspector. The Associate role is for less experienced individuals who have the potential and technical capabilities to become a Nuclear Inspector, given the correct training and support.

A number of our new recruits come to us via the highly-regarded ‘nucleargraduates’ scheme established by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) in 2008. ONR-sponsored graduates on the scheme complete a two-year course and then, subject to satisfactory performance, are offered a permanent position with us.

We welcomed our fifth cohort of graduates in October 2018. The graduates that have joined us are now Nuclear Associates, starting on the development journey to becoming a Nuclear Inspector. We host work placements, actively promote careers in STEM and offer secondments, aiming to bring diversity and inclusion to our workforce.

Apprenticeships and internal skills

Going forward, we are working towards utilising degree-level apprenticeships. The apprenticeship scheme, which lasts five years, will allow students to work towards a science and engineering degree whilst working for ONR.

The apprentices will also be given opportunities to go on secondment within industry to gain more experience. After completing their degree, the apprentices will have the chance to move on to the graduates programme and on to the development journey, moving from graduates to the Associate and Equivalence roles before becoming a Nuclear Inspector.

The ONR Academy

We have also created initiatives to enhance our internal skills base by launching the ONR Academy. The academy provides both a physical and virtual space to train staff at all levels, and has doubled our in-house training capability.

The ONR Academy allows us to capture and share knowledge more effectively; crucial in an industry in which experience gained over decades is at risk of being lost as the workforce retires. Specifically, it gives us:

  • a training space configured to enable learning to be delivered and connected virtually to other ONR locations
  • a single Learning and Content Management System, accessible by all staff, will enable efficient management of learning and development by individuals and managers, providing an auditable level of competence
  • individuals will receive the development they need, based on their existing capability, resulting in reduced time spent training, making it more tailored to staff
  • new staff will have more support, with additional training for those who manage, coach and mentor them
  • through our academy, the supporting Learning and Content Management System and the ‘local, little and often’ blended learning available, we’re demonstrating our commitment to the development of existing and future staff.

Gold standard security

Security will always be a priority for ONR. Our Civil Nuclear Security team are leaders in the professionalisation of security as a business discipline. This aligns with the broader aspirations articulated by the Deputy Chief Inspector, Paul Fyfe, who said that we should be encouraging the industry to deliver similar professional standards. Part of this is to increase the number of Chartered Security Professionals (CSyP) from the Security Institute.

The Register of Chartered Security Professionals was launched in 2011. Being admitted to the Register and becoming a CSyP is a means of being recognised and continuing to represent the highest standards and ongoing proficiency. It is the gold standard of competence in security. CSyPs have to comply with a Code of Conduct, a Professional Disciplinary Code, and also complete Continuous Professional Development each year. We are increasing individual membership and continue to encourage more of our security professionals to join.

After Euratom

As part of the UK leaving the European Union, the decision was taken to leave Euratom, the European nuclear safety and research community set up in 1957. The Euratom treaty includes the provision of safeguards (the measures to verify that countries comply with international treaty obligations) arrangements for non-proliferation of nuclear materials. After the UK leaves the EU, ONR will provide the safeguards regime in the UK, a role currently fulfilled by Euratom.

This has meant an intense period of recruiting staff, training and upskilling existing staff to ensure we have enough fully warranted inspectors and support staff. We already have the necessary number of safeguards inspectors in post to meet international obligations, and have recruited nuclear material accountants and project management specialists under both temporary and permanent contracts.

As we transition from project work to safeguards regulation being business as usual, we will continue to recruit and embed while we continue to build our capability in safeguards over the next few years, and will bring in specialist external expertise as appropriate.

Procurement framework

Bringing in external expertise as required is another way in which we are meeting regulatory demands, using Technical Support Contracts (TSCs) to help manage the peaks of demand and fill gaps in niche capability. We expect the majority of these contracts to be utilised in our New Reactors division, largely in Generic Design Assessment (GDA) and to provide independent input to our decision making relating to graphite degradation in Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs).

During 2018/19, a new Technical Support Framework (TSF) will be established to provide a renewed and modernised framework for procuring technical support. The project has a number of critical success factors, including the continued supply of expert supply chain resources at competitive rates, with greater flexibility and efficiency in the call-off of work from suppliers.

The benefits to the framework include securing appropriate technical support in an increasingly competitive market, ability to initiate lower-value work (<£100k) quicker, reducing the risk of TSCs not being available when required, provides us with the ability to source capability from across the whole nuclear supply chain through its primary TSF suppliers and taking advantage of new capabilities over the duration of the framework. In addition, we will be able to use the framework as a strategic enabler, to flex our capacity and capability, using the supply chain more effectively than at present.

Regulating new tech

We are making good progress on preparing for how we regulate new technologies. In December 2017, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) made a number of nuclear-related announcements regarding advanced nuclear technologies (ANTs), including £5 million made available to us to build the capability and capacity needed to assess and licence new ANT designs.

This will enable us to support technology developments, with prelicensing dialogue as industry develops new reactors. The funding will cover our ANT project activities until March 2020, including training. With a focus on project delivery, our training strategy and plans have mapped the training needs against opportunities and knowledge sources in the UK and internationally.

We are working with international organisations to increase our knowledge of ANTs, allowing us to gain best practice and share ideas. Our staff are taking part in workshops and familiarisation courses, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Workshop on Design and Technology Status of Innovative (Non- water cooled) Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) for Near Term Deployment, the Joint International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) and IAEA workshop on Physics and Technology of Innovative Nuclear Energy Systems for Sustainable development.

Retaining knowledge

ONR also actively takes part in the IAEA SMR Regulators’ forum and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Working Group on the Safety of Advanced Reactors (WGSAR), contributing to the development of ANT guidance internationally.

These activities are supported by the project’s knowledge-building processes and tools, ensuring that the knowledge that is brought in to ONR is retained by us to meet the needs of existing and new staff, building team resilience into the future. We regularly hold project Knowledge Exchange workshops, to ensure not only that the knowledge gained is disseminated and used, but also contrasted and reviewed so that our project delivery and training priorities remain current; crucial in the rapidly evolving landscape of ANTs.

We continue to work closely with other organisations in the nuclear industry, playing an active role within the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group (NSSG), which considers risks and challenges from new build and the sector’s contribution to the UK Industrial Strategy.

We also engage with the Nuclear Institute, the National Skills Academy for Nuclear (NSAN) and the National College for Nuclear (NCfN) to support ideas and opportunities for development of our staff, making sure we contribute to the wider skills agenda.

Diversity focus

One of the challenges for us, and in the wider industry, is to increase diversity. We supports groups such as Women in Nuclear UK (WiN UK) – which appointed our Chief Executive, Adriènne Kelbie, as their first patron in 2017 – and the Nuclear Institute Young Generation Network (YGN), to ensure we are continuing to reinforce the benefits of diversity.

We have seen a 79% increase in the number of women in technical roles since 2014. The ratio of women across all roles in ONR in 2018 is 34%. In 2012, Credit Suisse research reported than any minority needs to reach 30% in order to attain a ‘tipping point’. We have already surpassed that figure but we are not complacent and are committed to further improvements. The challenge facing the nuclear industry has been described as a ‘once in a generation challenge’ and we are committed to building our capacity and capability and diversifying our workforce to make sure that the UK has a regulator that is fit for the future.