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Teaching Union Workers Nuclear-Specific Skills

Dec. 4, 2013The Nuclear Mechanic Apprenticeship Process (NMAP) is a program for contracted craft labor union personnel that ensures workers have specific skills needed at nuclear energy facilities. A new NMAP website documents how knowledge and skills acquired by workers through union apprenticeship programs can meet specific training requirements for a variety of trades in the nuclear industry.

Nuclear Energy Overview recently spoke to Jack Heyer, trade representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and Jim Boyd, Senior Director of the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC), about what NMAP does to train, evaluate and document the skill sets of craft union laborers who work in the nuclear field.

Q: What is NMAP?

Heyer: NMAP is the product of a tripartite committee formed from the nuclear industry, comprising the [building and construction unions], utility owners, and their maintenance contractors. The three come together to evaluate the skill sets necessary for entry into nuclear maintenance work.

Boyd: From a training viewpoint, our mission is to ensure that all graduating apprentices have the skill sets identified from a study report that examined and identified the required industry training. We constantly update our curriculum for new technologies and also ensure it adheres to Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) standards.

Q: What trades are covered?

Heyer: There are six trades involved in the NMAP program—electricians, pipefitters and steamfitters, boilermakers, millwrights, ironworkers, sheet metal workers. Each trade has its own standards [depending on] the needs of the licensees. The program conducts audits to make sure we are bringing journeymen up to the craft level and that they are meeting those criteria.

Boyd: The training is done at the local unions. We have 285 training programs in the United States associated with the locals, and they're also associated with our contract organization [National Electrical Contractors Association]. We register training programs [jointly] with the Department of Labor. We develop curricula based on the needs and standards of the technology, and the programs are delivered through trained instructors.

Q: How long does an NMAP training program last?

Boyd: It’s part of [a worker’s] apprenticeship. When they graduate and become journeymen [typically after completing a five-year apprenticeship], they’ve met INPO standards and can be referred for a job. Before NMAP, they had to go through extensive training and tests and identify whether they have these skill sets. Without this stamp of approval through NMAP, it would require extra work from the facilities before a journeyman could do the activities.

Q: Is the training generic or geared to individual nuclear energy facilities?

Boyd: We strive to be safety-oriented and do safety training, but there are also variations from plant to plant. Some of those skills have to be locally offered because the utilities have their own rules. We have standards that we maintain and then take it from there based on local needs and requirements.

The training may be local for [personnel] working a particular shift at a particular facility rather than something that can be generally applied. We can’t always anticipate the specific needs of a utility.

Q: Is it up to the journeyman to decide to work in the nuclear industry?

Heyer: No, he or she [might] go to the union hall and look for work as a journeyman electrician. If there’s a job at a nuclear facility he’ll be referred there, as long as he has the qualifications.

Q: Is NMAP used at all unionized nuclear plants?

Heyer: Some plants have evolved into it. A lot of mergers have taken place, bringing some facilities into a larger network that uses NMAP.