Picture Gordon Birtwistle 3 medium size

In March 2013, the Government published its Nuclear Industrial Strategy with the ambition to make the UK once again world leading in nuclear new build and decommissioning expertise. It is forecast that globally £930 billion is set to be invested in new reactors and a further £250 billion to pay for decommissioning.

But to take advantage of these growing opportunities, the UK needs to recruit and train far more people into engineering than currently. Figures from EngineeringUK show that the sector needs to recruit 2.2 million candidates over the next five to ten years in the UK. Despite the many opportunities in an engineering career, only half of 11-to-14-year olds say they would consider it a viable option. This figure dropped to barely a third among girls and, unfortunately, less than a quarter of parents said they thought engineering was a suitable profession for their daughters.

So how do we ensure the UK builds a workforce that can capitalise on this multi-billion pound opportunity in the global nuclear market?

One example of success lies in the North West, where a new wave of local young recruits are being trained to create an economic powerhouse for the region with expertise unrivalled anywhere in the world.

The Sellafield site, based in West Cumbria, is the largest nuclear site in Europe and one of the most complex in the world. Managed by Nuclear Management Partners (NMP), the site is run on a day to day basis by Sellafield Ltd, who are responsible for safely delivering nuclear decommissioning, waste management and spent nuclear fuel management in support of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s mission of safe accelerated clean-up of the nuclear legacy.

Sellafield has the highest concentration of nuclear skills in one place, with over 15,000 highly skilled staff employed on site, with over 10,000 employed directly by Sellafield Ltd and the rest working for contractors in the supply chain. Last year under the management of NMP, Sellafield Ltd recruited a record number of apprentices, and will exceed that this year. In addition to this, a quarter of the apprentices are female compared with the national average for the sector of just 6 per cent.

Its apprenticeship programme has made a massive contribution to Cumbria and the North West in producing skilled people – more than 5,000 since the programme began.

Sellafield Ltd have also targeted the most deprived parts of the community, running a pilot work scheme for the unemployed, leading to a large number finding work. This is part of a wider long-term investment in the region focused on learning and skills facilities including construction and technology colleges.

To the people of West Cumbria, the Sellafieldoffering to the global nuclear market is the beating heart of its regional economy, creating tens of thousands of high value jobs, supporting many more and offering a vast range of training and career opportunities for young people.

As the founder of the Liberal Democrat Campaign for Manufacturing I believe manufacturing is vital for Britain’s long term economic success. My aim is that government decisions and initiatives reflect this priority. Projects like the 100-year long decommissioning of Sellafield will require highly skilled engineers for generations to come. Supporting the revival of our country’s expertise in nuclear engineering is a key part of this.

This article first appeared on Lib Dem Voice

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