Abstract: The majority of operating nuclear plants were constructed within a small time window. Few new plants have come on line within the past fifteen years. Consequently, most operating plants today have an ageing workforce that is beginning to retire in large numbers. This Paper describes the severity of the ageing workforce issue, how it affects the transfer of critical knowledge to new employees, and the steps that can be taken to successfully ensure this transition to the next generation of nuclear industry workers. Specific examples at individual nuclear plants are discussed, including examples of approaches to this critical personnel management issue.
Commercial Nuclear Plant Development
Commercial nuclear plant development began in the 1950s. However, large-scale development and construction of today's currently operating plants did not begin until the early 1960s. Most operating commercial nuclear power plants (NPPs) in the United States were constructed in a relatively brief time period. This period began in the early 1960s and continued through the early 1990ís (Figure 1).
For the bulk of these plants, commercial operations typically began within a few years of construction startup (Figure 2). Consequently, the personnel who supported construction activities of the earliest plants have already retired, while those who supported the most recently built plants are closing in on retirement rapidly. Many of those who were part of the construction phase stayed with the facility and became employees of the plant's operating organization.
A similar process occurred with construction and startup of nuclear power plants throughout the world. Of the current 442 operating commercial nuclear plants in the world today, over 70 percent have had at least 20 years of operation. (Figure 3).
However, when the plants went into commercial operation skill set requirements changed. There are, in reality, five phases to an NPPs life cycle, and each has its own skill set requirements: 1) Construction, 2) Startup/Testing, 3) Commercial Operations, 4) Safe Store, and 5) Decommissioning.
Each phase requires different numbers of different skill sets from the people supporting that phase. As nuclear plant construction began, typically a few thousand total personnel would be involved, including architect/engineering firm personnel, construction craft, trade labor, and technical staff. As the plantís construction came to closure, the personnel shifted to focus on startup and testing. In many cases, many of the construction personnel remained, although at reduced levels. After initiating commercial operation, plant staffing levels normally leveled off. After the accident at Three Mile Island, additional regulatory oversight, new training requirements, and more complex reactor safety system designs brought increases in staffing levels at NPPs.
However, in the U.S., electric utilities operated in regulated environments, with cost recovery programs in effect. Consequently, high staffing levels were not a concern. Once base power rates were established through public utility commissions, opportunities for cost reductions through labor savings became available. By the mid-1980s, U.S. nuclear plant operators began looking for opportunities to reduce cost through staffing reductions. Commercial operations staffing levels in the U.S. were reduced further after the introduction of competition into the electricity market. Initial staffing reductions were applied to the supporting contractor work force, typically targeting staff augmentation contractor personnel, a process which came to be known as "in-sourcing." In the early 1980s, U.S. nuclear plant staffing typically included 20 percent of its workforce from contractor sources.
The next major adjustment in personnel levels in the U.S. began in mid 1990s with programs to "right size" the employee workforce. While effectively improving performance in terms of capacity factor, safety performance, and reduced refuel outage durations, U.S. NPPs began to consistently reduce employee staffing levels. Since 1997 average U.S. NPP staffing levels have dropped by more than 15%. These reductions appear to have recently leveled off (Figure 4).
The reduction of staffing levels coincided with the aging of the workforce. Today, at most U.S. NPPs, the average worker age is approximately 48. Many of these personnel are approaching 30 years as employees of their companies, and are becoming eligible for retirement. Although each NPP has a unique set of employees and labor conditions, the common years of construction and initial commercial operations cause many NPPs to have similar age demographics.
The details of one U.S. NPP's age demographics are shown below (Figure 5). The Rule of 70 and Rule of 90 curves show employee retirement eligibility based on a company program that has different retirement benefits when the employees' age and years of service are combined to reach the value of 70 or 90. Employees at this NPP are also eligible to retire at age 62 or age 65, regardless of years of service with the company. These age demographics show that as few as 9 percent, and as many as 63% of this NPP's employees will be eligible to retire within the next 5 years. Note that under the Rule of 70 program, one-third of the employees are already eligible to retire. Given other positive economic and personal life conditions, management may not be able to slow a mass exodus in the very near term.
Ageing Workforce Conditions and Issues
As part of the reduction of total staff, along with the technical nature and training requirements for operating NPPs, employee skills set have become very focused. To offset this situation, most U.S. NPPs proactively encourage rotation and cross training of staff. This approach provides "bench strength" to provide additional personnel with experience and/or training while maintaining lower overall staffing levels. Examples include encouraging senior licensed reactor operators to accept management responsibility in organizations outside of operations, including maintenance, work control, and other technical areas. These U.S. NPPs also encourage engineering staff to qualify for and pass the Senior Reactor Operator (SRO) license examination. One consequence of this approach is a larger training organization, due to the more frequent out flow of licensed reactor operators from the operations shift crews. In the long term, however, this has helped reduce the average age of reactor operators in the U.S., where few senior operators retire directly from the on-shift crews.
As highlighted above, most employees at nuclear plants are now approaching retirement eligibility. They carry with them extensive technical experience, and, in many cases, plant specific technical information from the construction period. Some of this information is not included in plant documentation. Thus, these employees are of great value to the NPP operating organization. At U.S. NPPs, the majority of impending retirements will occur in the next few years within the maintenance and engineering areas. The critical skill areas are estimated to lose between one-third and one-half of all of their staff within 5 years.
Goodnight Consulting, Inc. surveyed U.S. NPP companies in the fourth quarter of 2002 to identify their plans for managing this near-term issue. The results of the survey were published in early 2003, and included a variety of information demonstrating how these NPPs planned to respond to impending attrition. The results varied when comparing 1-unit and 2-unit NPPs. Although these NPPs still planned to hire new personnel to replace almost 40-50 percent of their retiring staff, at least 30 percent of the retirees were not to be replaced with new hires or contractors (Figure 6).
Knowledge Transfer Issues
Once NPPs began to understand the impending large numbers of retirements, they also recognized that a significant amount of experience, and therefore knowledge, would be leaving simultaneously. The concept of knowledge management was born. The issue is focused on how to identify, codify, and retain key knowledge about the NPP and its historical operations. Several organizations, including industry groups and NPP operating companies, have developed approaches for managing knowledge transfer.
At the industry level, many organizations (The American Nuclear Society, The Nuclear Energy Institute, The Institute for Nuclear Power Operations, The International Atomic Energy Agency, etc.) have been successful at developing forums for information and experience exchange:
• The American Nuclear Society (ANS) sponsors several conferences and embedded topical meetings each year to provide a forum for technical and business practice information exchange.
• The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) has sponsored and manages the development of the Standard Nuclear Performance Model (SNPM), a common set of nuclear work functions, activity definitions, and activity-based cost approaches. NEI also sponsors functional teams from across the industry and encourages the participation of all plants to develop a set of industry best practices for each element of the SNPM.
• The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) is partially staffed by on-loan plant employees who bring their own experience to peer team inspections and assessments. These individuals also gain experience from these team activities and take their acquired knowledge back to their home plant at the end of a two year exchange.
• The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a United Nations organization, has facilitated a number of forums and published several technical documents regarding the NPP attrition issue and approaches to knowledge management.
Industry Consolidation into Nuclear "Fleets"
Seven years ago in the U.S., there were 43 companies operating nuclear plants. Today there are only 24, a 44% reduction (only one reactor was deactivated). This consolidation of NPPs into operating fleets has had a beneficial impact on developing and maintaing key knowledge. As U.S. nuclear operating fleets have grown, they have created a new reservoir of technical and experiential knowledge. However this reservoir is not formally structured or industry-based. Older fleets, including Duke, Entergy, Exelon, Progress Energy, and TVA, have developed internal peer teams to take advantage of best practices and shared technical experience. Additionally, when unusual technical issues arise, there is a greater depth of technical staff to be brought together to approach the problem. This fleet capability also creates the development of new knowledge that is then available for the rest of the fleet when needed. A similar consolidation of NPPs into fleets has also occurred in the U.K. and Germany.
Creation of Voluntary Alliances
The Strategic Teaming And Resource Sharing (STARS) alliance was formed in the U.S. on the basis that the initial members were all Westinghouse 4-loop plants, and could therefore gain economies of scale in a variety of technical, licensing, and procurement areas. The STARS alliance includes the Callaway, Comanche Peak, Diablo Canyon, Palo Verde, South Texas Project, and Wolf Creek NPPs.
The Utilities Service Alliance (USA) alliance, another U.S. group of NPPs, includes the Columbia, Cooper, D.C. Cook, Fermi-2, Ft. Calhoun, Susquehanna, and Wolf Creek NPPs. The STARS Alliance later became a subgroup of USA, and Ontario Power Generationís Bruce and Darlington CANDU plants recently joined the alliance. Today, the USA includes 14 NPPs.
These alliances were formed to take advantage of potential economies of scale in common functions, and increase leverage for large scale purchasing. Both alliances are currently claiming annual savings of approximately US$1 Million at each plant directly attributable to alliance relationships. Both alliances are reporting limited resource sharing, mostly for refuel outage support and unusual engineering technical issue resolution. Significant regulatory and licensing synergies have also been reported within the STARS alliance.
Local College Partnerships
The South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company (STPNOC) operates the South Texas Nuclear Project, a large 2-unit nuclear plant near Wadsworth, Texas. STPNOC and the Brazosport Community College in Brazoria, Texas have developed a relationship that facilitates training that is targeted for current and future nuclear plant employees. Brazosport College provides specific training programs for workers from a variety of industries in the region, including:
• Computer-Based Training Design
• Computer Software
• Core Competency Development
• Customer Service
• ISO 9000
• Safety/Technical Skills
• Team Development
• Web-Based Training
The First Energy Nuclear Operating Company (FENOC) operates the Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear plants in Ohio, and the Beaver Valley nuclear plant in Pennsylvania. FENOC and the Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio have developed a coordinated educational program. Through Lakeland, the students can achieve a two-year accredited Associate of Technical Studies degree with a focus on Nuclear Engineering Technology. This program prepares students for employment in selected areas within a nuclear plant.
FENOC was instrumental in identifying and supporting curriculum development. Furthermore, a 10-week field experience at the Perry Nuclear Power Plant is required. Students are exposed to a variety of specializations within the nuclear power plant, and utilize the skills learned during their first two semesters of college. An Edison Electric Institute baseline test for the nuclear power industry and a background and drug test coordinated through FENOC must be passed to qualify for the program. Lakeland also requires placement tests in language, reading, and mathematics.
Other Approaches to Knowledge Management
The Omaha Public Power Districtís Ft. Calhoun Station, in Nebraska, has had 6 major capital projects on-going since 2003: Steam Generator Replacement, Pressurizer Replacement, Vessel Head Replacement, Extended Power Uprate, Dry Cask On-site Storage, and License Renewal. To support the significant demands for these activities, they created a Major Projects department reporting to the Nuclear Vice President, staffed with a former senior manager. The organization is being staffed with senior engineers who will likely retire within the next 5-7 years. These engineers will serve as mentors for newly hired engineers. The newly hired engineers will become the system and component experts for their respective areas as the projects progress and are completed. Using this approach under appropriate conditions, the tacit knowledge for existing plant systems can be transferred in conjunction with the development of new technical expertise.
Progress Energy, a U.S. NPP operator that runs the Brunswick, Crystal River, Harris, and Robinson plants, has taken a time-oriented approach. They evaluated their expected attrition, and offered an early retirement program. This program was a coordinated effort with a new hiring program whose results have significantly shifted their age demographics to a younger level.
Progress Energy also focused on managerial experience. They created a position titled Director of Site Operations, organizationally layered between the Site Vice President and the Plant Manager. This approach was designed to develop potential new site vice presidents, as well as provide "bench strength" to the Plant Manager and site leadership team. At the Tennessee Valley Authority, a similar approach was applied, but two levels lower in the organization. In their case, TVA created an Assistant Plant Manager position for developmental purposes. Many other U.S. nuclear companies rotate their management staff internally to expose them to the functional specifics that vary for each organization. Additionally, some U.S. plants require a Senior Reactor Operator (SRO) license for entry into some leadership positions.
Using Experienced Staff As Training Instructors
The U.S. typically applies experienced staff to provide technical training to developing employees. For example, experienced licensed operators will spend some of their career on rotation to the training organization to train new operators. The same approach is also applied within the technical training programs for maintenance mechanics, electricians, instrumentation and controls technicians, and radiation protection technicians. Former maintenance supervisors often rotate organizationally to become work package planners or work week schedulers.
Individual NPP conditions vary, and are slowly being addressed across the industry by their operating companies. At the extreme, the Angra NPP in Brazil represented the worst case scenario. There, two reactors were built by two different foreign suppliers, with documentation in each supplierís native language. Thus, there exists a NPP with the employees natively speaking Portuguese, but who must also be able to read and speak English to interact with Westinghouse, and German to interact with Siemens. It was physically convenient during construction, startup/testing, and initial commercial operations, for the Brazilian employees to have access to, and opportunity to practice these trilingual skills. However, as these plants age, along with the initial employees, these opportunities have been reduced. For continued operations, the NPPís operating company will need to require these skill sets of new hires, or pay the costs to help them develop the needed language skills.
For Angra NPP, and every other NPP concerned with knowledge management, the key issue begins with identifying "key knowledge" for their NPP. In, the U.S., the Tennessee Valley Authority has led the industry in developing an approach to knowledge management. They developed a three step process to "capture the undocumented knowledge of employees nearing retirement. This process - and associated tools and support - allows line managers to:
1. Identify critical "at-risk" knowledge and skills, esp. that associated with attrition.
2. Evaluate the risk associated with losing this critical knowledge and skills and focus on areas of greatest risk.
3. Develop, implement, and evaluate actions (documentation, mentoring, training, reengineering, sharing expertise, etc.) for managing this risk."
Their high level model attempts to prioritize the risk involved with losing key knowledge by combining the timing of the impending retirement with the degree of key knowledge associated with the individual and their current job position (Figure 7).
The retirement factor represents the expected timing of the key person's retirement, and the position risk factor represents a ranking of the knowledge related to that person's experience and position. The resulting product of multiplying these two factors provides a relative ranking for comparison with other individuals and job positions. Thus, a prioritization scheme was developed to allow management to focus first on the greatest risk areas.
To implement this approach, TVA had to conducted interviews to identify potential knowledge loss areas. They worked with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)
and applied a Concept Mapping Pilot program at their Browns Ferry NPP. They then assessed the consequences and developed individual plans. Finally TVA identified their options to retain or mitigate the knowledge loss:
• Codification of the information
• Education and training for currently developing and new employees
• Engineer a solution
• Develop alternative resources
Finally, TVA had to monitor and evaluate their knowledge retention plans and review their approach for improvements, thus applying the nuclear industry continuous improvement concept. From these initial assessments, they recognized the need to develop integrated staffing plans. They created a Work Force Planning program that includes recruiting initiatives, a training pipeline, the knowledge retention program, and planning for key leadership succession.
Until very recently, most nuclear plants had only a small human resources staff, who did not perform organizational development activities, workforce planning, or ascension planning. A few plants and companies began to perform these activities within the last few years, including AmerenUE's Callaway plant and TVA. These companies have progressed and lead the industry in the U.S. in these areas.
In the past, most U.S. plants used industry staffing benchmarking to help set staffing, and therefore, cost goals. The result was the identification of variances between a plant's staffing levels and the industry benchmarks. Approaches to correct for the variances were essentially tactical planning, always trying to keep pace. Recently, several companies have begun to develop strategic staffing plans, applying current benchmarking, modeling for future benchmarking and attrition, and applying the results as part of overall strategic plans. Examples of the U.S. NPP companies who have taken this strategic approach include Detroit Edison's Fermi-2 Plant, the South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
To support these workforce planning efforts, Goodnight Consulting, Inc. expanded their staffing benchmarking practice to become a strategic personnel planning practice. Thus, a static snapshot of staffing comparisons at the functional level has grown to include an integrated approach for developing detailed personnel plans. The key elements that must be included in these strategic plans include:
• Current staffing levels
• Current industry benchmarks
• Impending personnel attrition
• Staffing demands for plant-specific conditions
• Staffing demands to support capital programs
• Future industry benchmarks/NPP company staffing targets
Goodnight Consulting's approach has been applied in varying degrees at several U.S. NPPs. An overview of the 5-step approach is shown below (Figure 8).
As is typical of U.S. culture, many of the NPP companies see their situations as unique, and therefore believe they require a unique approach. There are a variety of approaches which are normally aimed at solving each company's issues, but they are all aimed at reducing the risk of losing key knowledge. These approaches typically include most of the following activities:
• Cooperative education programs with local universities (Engineering)
• Active nation-wide recruiting efforts (Mostly Engineering)
• Active recruiting from competing companies (specialty skills, including mid-level senior managers)
• Re-start of maintenance apprentice programs (Maintenance)
• Hiring larger groups of new personnel all at once (Engineering)
• Mentoring programs for key areas (Engineering, Maintenance, and specialty skills)
While attrition and knowledge management programs have been developed at many NPPs and their operating companies, there are other forces that will significantly impact their success. These forces are driven by license renewal for existing plants and the nuclear power renaissance around the world:
• Most U.S. plants and many internationally are receiving license renewal for 20 more years of operation
• There are 27 new nuclear plants currently under construction world wide
• There are currently 23 requests for new U.S. plants identified by the NRC
These conditions are creating a new demand for skilled labor. The NRC has announced that it will need at least 350 new technical staff to support the licensing process for new reactors in the U.S., and has initiated an aggressive recruiting and hiring program. The architect/engineering companies have already begun to build up staff and capability to successfully compete for, and execute the construction of, these new NPPs. Major component manufacturers are increasing staff to develop the needed production capacity for expected demand. Simultaneously, currently operating NPPs have to compete for both young workers beginning their careers, and experienced workers on the edge of retirement. These competitive pressures are sure to increase the cost of labor as these many organizations all compete for the same small labor pool.
Another problem resides with current Human Resources (HR) organizations supporting NPPs. These groups have evolved to become support organizations that provide benefits counseling and the relatively low level of in- and out-processing of employees. The scale of their work is about to change drastically. Based on estimates from many NPPs, the impending attrition and plans for replacement personnel will include out-processing of several hundred employees, while simultaneously supporting the recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and retention efforts for many new employees. Some nuclear managers have estimated that the scaling factor for potential candidates compared to retained employees is between five and seven times the final number desired. For example, to retain 300 new employees, approximately 500 will need to be hired, which will require interviewing 1,500-2,000 candidates, which will require a recruiting program aimed at a target audience of 7,000-10,000 people. Todayís current HR organizations have neither the experience nor the staff to operate such a program, and will likely require support from external organizations to realize any level of success.
The ageing workforce in the nuclear power industry will create universal attrition problems, particularly in maintenance and engineering. The maintenance and engineering areas of a nuclear plant require highly developed skills sets that require a combination of training and on the job experience. There is a likely shortfall of personnel in these two areas that will develop within the next five years, and beyond. Overcoming the potential lack of personnel will require a combination of actions, including:
• Identifying and planning for the potential personnel shortages
• Identifying opportunities for staffing reductions where possible through process changes
• Attracting, hiring, and retaining new personnel
• Training these personnel, both technically and experientially
Most nuclear power companies will need to conduct workforce planning analyses to identify and plan for their potential personnel shortages. Planning must include identifying opportunities to reduce physical work requirements through process improvements, technology applications, and the reduction of unnecessary work. A workforce planning model should be developed that applies the plants' expected attrition and overlays key elements such as historical attrition causes, future capital program needs, and potential outsourcing or alliance opportunities.