What’s needed to grow the nuclear workforce of tomorrow?

8 min read | Paul Gibbens | Article | Workforce management Career development | Upskilling

Nuclear energy is seen as a reliable, resilient and low-carbon alternative to the burning of fossil fuels. It provides constant baseload power that can be supplemented with renewable energy sources, which tend to be less reliable.

The proportion of electricity generated by nuclear power in the UK has declined since the 1990s, with most existing power stations set to close by 2030. Reasons for this include: historic concerns over safety and affordability, delays in the construction of reactors, and a lack of investor confidence.

However, we’re increasing our investment in nuclear energy in the UK to ensure our energy security and help us reach our net zero targets – and we’re not alone in this approach. We’re one of more than 20 countries that launched the Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy at COP28 last year, which recognises the key role nuclear energy will play in achieving global net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

With the investment and interest in nuclear power rising once again, the country will need more engineers and technical specialists to work on nuclear energy projects. So, what’s required to grow the nuclear workforce of tomorrow?


  • The development of a nuclear skills pipeline
  • More people to enter the workforce
  • Engineering professionals to transition into nuclear energy


The development of a nuclear skills pipeline

The civil nuclear roadmap details the government’s current plans to achieve 24 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear capacity by 2050 – around a quarter of our projected electricity demand. The steps to realising this goal include: securing investment decisions to deliver 3 to 7 GW every five years from 2030 to 2044, seeking alternative routes to market for new nuclear projects, and reaching a Final Investment Decision (FID) on Sizewell C.

This means we’ll need more nuclear engineers to carry out the following tasks:

  • Designing and building new nuclear plants and equipment
  • Monitoring radiation levels
  • Carrying out maintenance work
  • Helping to decommission old power stations
  • Researching new ways to dispose of nuclear waste
  • Designing medical equipment that uses nuclear technology

The Nuclear Skills Taskforce was launched in 2023 to train more people to carry out these tasks and develop our country’s nuclear skills pipeline. The Taskforce challenges the UK’s nuclear sector to be ambitious in its addressing of skills gaps, by bringing together government, employers and academia to meet nuclear skills growth opportunities.


More people to enter the workforce

The Nuclear Skills Strategy Group (NSSG) estimates that the current workforce in the civil and defence nuclear sectors is made up of around 83,000 people. The latest modelling from employer data indicates that the sector will need between 150,000 and 180,000 workers by 2043 to deliver the goals set out in the roadmap to 2050. In light of this notable discrepancy, public and private investment has been announced to reinforce the nuclear workforce and support 40,000 new jobs.

If you’re considering a career in nuclear energy you can apply for relevant apprenticeships, such as the nuclear scientist and nuclear engineer level 6 degree apprenticeship or the nuclear reactor desk engineer level 6 degree apprenticeship. Alternatively, you can pursue a degree qualification in a related subject. Some examples of possible degree subjects include:

  • Nuclear engineering
  • Chemical engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Physics with nuclear technology

Once you’re qualified or trained in a particular area, you can choose from a broad range of roles in the nuclear energy sector, here are just a few options:

  • Project manager – featured in our Top Jobs 2024 Report as one of this year’s most sought-after roles
  • Health and safety specialist
  • Safety case engineer
  • Instrumentation and control engineer
  • Process engineer
  • Quality engineer
  • Reactor operator
  • Nuclear welder


10% of those currently working in nuclear are aged 60 or above and only 21% are women.


As well as needing more people to enter the nuclear workforce, we also must source workers from a broader range of backgrounds. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) is a priority when recruiting for nuclear roles, to ensure the workforce is representative of society and to help tackle skill shortages in the sector. 10% of those currently working in nuclear are aged 60 or above and only 21% are women, according to the NSSG Workforce Assessment, although the industry is committed to increasing the proportion of women working in nuclear to 40% by 2030.


Engineering professionals to transition into nuclear energy

To fill current technical and soft skills gaps, the nuclear energy sector needs to attract mid-career professionals from other areas of engineering. To encourage collaboration across the sector and build a network of future leaders, cross-sector leadership opportunities could be offered to high-potential engineering talent. Engineers from other sectors tend to have extremely useful transferrable skills, including:

  • Technical skills: knowledge of engineering science and technology, maths, physics, an understanding of computer systems and applications, and design skills and knowledge.
  • Soft skills: attention to detail, thinking and reasoning skills, analytical thinking, and verbal communication skills.


Around two thirds of nuclear jobs are located in the North West or South West of England, where the sector is estimated to contribute £1 in every £50 of economic output.


The civil nuclear sector is a source of highly paid jobs, so moving into nuclear could be a lucrative option for engineers currently working in other sectors. The sector also has a strong regional dimension – around two thirds of nuclear jobs are located in the North West or South West of England, where the sector is estimated to contribute £1 in every £50 of economic output.

If you want to play a key role in the production of cleaner energy and slow down the negative impacts of climate change in your role as an engineer, then transitioning into nuclear energy could be a logical and rewarding career move.


If you’re looking to secure top nuclear talent for your organisation, get in touch with our specialist team of engineering recruitment consultants to find out how we can support your business goals.

Alternatively, if you’re a professional considering making the move into nuclear energy, take a look at our current job opportunities today.


About this author

Paul Gibbens, National Specialism Director, Engineering, Hays

Paul began his recruitment career in 2005 before joining Hays in November 2019. Paul is an experienced customer-focused director with extensive knowledge of the nuclear, MOD & defence, oil & gas, rail, power generation, petrochemical, chemical, renewable energy and manufacturing industries.

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