Desperately needed: nuclear energy employees

DURHAM REGION, ONTARIO - One hundred per cent of students who leave UOIT with a nuclear engineering degree have jobs when they graduate.

"Everybody gets a job," said Dan Meneley, acting dean of the UOIT faculty. "In fact, if we doubled output I think that would still remain true."

All graduates who want a job get one - a strong statistic in a weakening economy. That's because the electricity sector is growing rapidly and can't find enough employees to cover, according to recent statistics.

About three-quarters of nuclear engineering grads go directly into the industry with careers at Ontario Power Generation, Bruce Power and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) among the most popular employers. The remainder go to their home countries to use their skills or enter graduate degree programs at the university.

This demand for graduates in the field is only going to increase. As oil and gas prices climb over the next few years, Dr. Meneley said he expects the need for nuclear energy will grow. And, of course, another factor contributing to the need for more skilled people to work in the nuclear energy sector in Durham will be the building of two new reactors at Darlington, likely to be operational by 2018.

"You see the electricity demand, you see the Ontario Power Generation planning to build two more units. The province generates more than half of its power from nuclear energy," he said.

Nuclear power is a great source of energy because it's clean, it doesn't produce carbon dioxide and the generators and uranium used to produce it are owned by Ontario, Dr. Meneley said.

The need for people with skills in nuclear energy is great and the field needs people with varied skills, not just engineers.

At AECL, a nuclear technology and services company providing services to utilities worldwide, hiring is happening in all areas of the company. Board chairwoman Glenna Carr estimates they will need about 2,000 new employees in various positions, from engineers to administration, over the next three years just to maintain the level of staffing at the corporation now. This number is not taking into account any new growth.

AECL is one of three vendors bidding to build the new Darlington reactors.

In the past two years AECL has hired 100 new graduates and 200 students from various universities each year in an attempt to fill the gap. UOIT grads are especially in demand because of the skills they bring to the table, she said.

"I think the fact they focus at UOIT on people who are ready to be employed; they really expose them to not just an academic curriculum but a very applied, business-like, hands-on approach," Ms. Carr said.

Ontario Power Generation will be hiring new engineers later this year and will hire new operators starting next year, said nuclear public affairs director Jacquie McInnes in an e-mail.

"By hiring new people now, we will have enough depth in our staffing to move over some of our more experienced nuclear operators and nuclear engineers when the time is right," she said.

The numbers of workers needed are not unique to AECL, OPG or the nuclear energy in particular. Workers are needed in all areas of the electricity sector.

According to numbers released by the Electricity Council Sector on Tuesday, the electricity industry faces an immediate shortfall of 1,300 positions every year for the next three years. Nearly 30 per cent of industry positions must be replaced (about 25,000 people within the next six years) to meet Canada's energy demands, now rising by one per cent each year.


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