Last year’s optimism for pay rises does not appear to have materialised for some this year, dampening spirits
However, signs of distress are hard to find, and there is much good to build on for hiring managers and professionals alike with the AI revolution creating demand for both soft and technical skills.
A large minority (42 per cent) of respondents report an increase in income this year – a fall from last year (47 per cent), and lower than elsewhere in the energy sector. Hiring managers have a more optimistic outlook though, with 74 per cent reporting increases in their sector, and 35 per cent reporting increases of more than five per cent.
The future appears brighter: 51 per cent of workers and 78 per cent of hiring managers anticipate raises in the coming year. However, it is notable that last year 73 per cent of workers expected a raise – reality (42 per cent) seems to have dented their optimism.
Only 65 per cent of respondents are open to relocation this year, a 12 per cent decrease from last year. Fifty-eight per cent say their employer promotes cross-regional transfers, and a third of workers are expatriates, but 35 per cent simply do not wish to relocate – up from 23 per cent last year.
For those open to a move, career progression is the primary enticement (selected by 42 per cent). Lifestyle and low cost of living (13 per cent) and other reasons trail distantly. The most attractive destinations are Europe (26 per cent), North America (24 per cent), and the Middle East (20 per cent), roughly in-line with their peers across the energy sector. On the other hand, those who wish to stay put point to proximity to family (45 per cent) and lack of opportunities (14 per cent) to explain their reluctance.
Andrew Crabtree, Founder of Get Into Nuclear, comments: “The nuclear sector is the odd one out when it comes to energy industry mobility. That may be because nuclear power plants, more than others, tend to create long-term communities around them, so that workers may feel deeper roots. Security clearance can also be a significant administrative hurdle when moving between countries. Companies and countries rightly take nuclear security very seriously.”
Attracting and retaining talent
The apparent rootedness of the sector’s workforce should not be a cause for complacency on the part of hiring managers, as 77 per cent of respondents would consider switching to a new role.
While half are open to a new role within nuclear, 40 per cent would move to another energy sector, and 24 per cent would leave energy behind entirely.
Within energy, the most popular destination is renewables, identified as of-interest by 42 per cent of respondents. Oil and gas – last year’s top destination – falls to third (19 per cent), behind power (27 per cent). Technology, transport, logistics and infrastructure, and manufacturing are popular non-energy choices.
When asked what would motivate a move, nearly one-third of respondents noted career progression, followed by interest in the wider sector (17 per cent) and the chance to work with interesting technology (10 per cent).
Crabtree adds: “It’s notable that remuneration and benefits don’t make the top three reasons for a move here, especially given nuclear’s relatively lacklustre performance on salary growth this year. But ‘career progression’ can mean a lot of different things, so I’d caution against interpreting this as satisfaction with pay. In fact, the sector needs to take care not to slip behind on that front.”
This is underlined by the fact that 79 per cent of workers have been approached for another role in the last year, with 10 per cent having been contacted more than 20 times. Many of these offers are coming from beyond the sector.
Janette Marx, CEO of Airswift, comments: “Nuclear professionals seem more settled in their roles than many of their peers across the wider energy sector, despite lower reported pay increases. That’s good news for now, but if their optimism for future pay increases isn’t rewarded, then they may not be so settled in future.”
AI in the workplace
Most (61 per cent) respondents do not use AI in their role today – higher than in any other energy sector. In fact, just over a quarter do (27 per cent), while another nine per cent expect to do so within six months.
A third of respondents report that their workplace already has an AI policy in place, and 24 per cent have read it. This may suggest that the 27 per cent using AI are largely diligent about doing so within the confines of company policies.
Popular AI choices
The most popular tools used by nuclear’s AI vanguard are machine learning and robotic process automation applications, both selected by 18 per cent of respondents. In contrast, 15 per cent say they use generative AI such as ChatGPT – compared to other sectors, where this is the top or joint-top use case.
The top use cases for these tools are automated workflow and collaboration (26 per cent). Data analytics to optimise performance, and safety and inspection improvements closely follow (both 23 per cent).
Ken Corriveau, formerly the CIO at Omnicom Media Group, suggests: “What we may see here is lower uptake of AI by nuclear professionals, but greater emphasis on careful implementation and experimentation from the top-down, within strictly confined policy. By their nature, generative AI tools today tend to be used by individuals experimenting within their roles. Perhaps there is less latitude for this in nuclear, given the extra safety and security considerations and a more cautious culture
The future of AI
Optimism over AI’s potential future role in nuclear is complicated. Forty-two per cent of respondents are fairly optimistic and 36 per cent are very optimistic about its impact. Taken at face value, this appears to be an enthusiastic response. However, in other sectors the combined figure for optimism is higher, and the ‘very optimistic’ outweigh the ‘fairly optimistic’.
Still, optimism is there. So, what stands in the way of a brighter future for AI in nuclear? Respondents say insufficient investment in AI applications is the number one challenge to making greater use of AI for the sector, followed by lack of clarity on which tools offer the best fit for the company and insufficient or poor-quality data.
If these barriers can be overcome then 69 per cent of respondents look forward to greater productivity thanks to AI in the next two years, while 52 per cent anticipate new career and progression opportunities and 47 per cent expect greater job satisfaction. Only 17 per cent expect downward pressure on salary, career progression or job satisfaction, though 58 per cent recognise they will be under pressure to study or learn new skills.
Beyond their professional lives, respondents look forward to great benefits for the sector from greater AI use. Thirty per cent say AI will lead to an increase in research, development and innovation, and 27 per cent say it will improve predictive analytics and forecasting. On the other hand, 38 per cent identify an emerging risk from lack of human or personal touch – although this anxiety is higher in other sectors.
AI skills for the future
What expectations will an AI-enabled nuclear sector have for its workforce? Both technical and soft skills will be increasingly valuable.
All respondents believe AI will boost the need for various skills. Specifically, 28 per cent foresee a higher demand for critical thinking and problemsolving abilities while 22 per cent say the same for creativity / innovative thinking.
On the technical side, 24 per cent foresee a greater need for machine learning expertise, 22 per cent say the same of IT, and 20 per cent say both data science and cyber security will be important.
However, the skills professionals report interest in developing diverge from this list considerably. Data science and project management skills are the most popular (both selected by 29 per cent), with machine learning, data visualisation, and software skills all following at 24 per cent. The ‘softer’ skills of leadership and creativity apparently fall behind.
Marx considers: “There is an opportunity for ambitious nuclear professionals to step into this gap and provide the leadership and innovation that the sector will need. Technical skills will always be in demand, but tomorrow’s most valuable professionals will be those who can bridge the technical and ‘human’ side, especially as AI becomes more widespread.”