Nuclear Energy Insight
—Here’s what students want to hear from a college recruiter: “12 of our 13 students graduated on Friday and went to work the next Monday.”
Tim McGhee, dean of the engineering technology division at Chattanooga State Community College
, would like to showcase all of his school’s programs in that way. The positions are six-month probationary internships at Tennessee Valley Authority nuclear power plants that offer salary and benefits starting day one and have the potential to lead to regular, full-time positions.
The newly minted interns are one of the first graduating classes in the Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program (NUCP)
, a framework for educating and developing operators and technicians for nuclear power plants.
This May, two NUCP member community colleges—Salem
in New Jersey and Chattanooga State in Tennessee—became the first programs to award NUCP certificates.
In today’s economy, it didn’t take long for word to get out that it’s successful. “We’ve had to cap the program because interest is so high,” McGhee said. “We’ve capped it at 20 students a year to give Tennessee Valley Authority [the local utility] a predictable group.”
Because the nuclear energy industry anticipates a large number of retirees—plus new construction of nuclear power plants—training new workers has become an industry priority.
“We’re really excited. We need the program because we [the U.S.] are going to be building more plants and we have an aging work force,” said Peter Tocci, corporate training manager at PSEG Nuclear. “The program will help supply new workers to fill that shortage.”
The industry-recognized NUCP certificates go to students who receive a grade of B or better in all core courses of the curriculum. They are given along with diplomas from the two-year college programs.
The NUCP certificate is not specific to TVA, PSEG or any other company. Instead, it affirms that the graduate is ready to join any electric utility’s training program for plant operators, technicians and maintenance personnel. The program requires a common curriculum on plant equipment and systems, science and mathematics in the first year. In the second year, students choose technical electives in their chosen focus area.
“Making the certificate fully transferable will increase the marketability of the degree and simplify hiring for utilities,” said Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides, NEI’s manager for industry infrastructure. “It’s a situation that will benefit the new hires, utilities and the industry at large.”
This year, the Salem program graduated four students and Chattanooga State 12 students.
That is just the beginning. Tocci said that 50 students are enrolled in the program at Salem: 12 students in their second year and 38 in their first. PSEG intends to make job offers for all graduates receiving certificates.
Salem and Chattanooga are two of 43 community colleges participating in the pilot program
of the curriculum. McAndrew-Benavides hopes that all of them will adopt the NUCP so that students receive the same training nationwide and the certificate becomes a generally recognized standard of excellence for plant worker training.
The requirement that students get a B grade or better in core courses enhances the value and marketability of the NUCP certificate, according to utilities and educators.
“The certificate makes them a cut above any other applicant. It eliminates some of the initial required training, so utilities think, ‘these kids can make the grade,” said Tocci.
“It’s a rigorous program; I like that. I don’t see that as a barrier—the industry should want a higher caliber student,” said McGhee.—Read more articles in Nuclear Energy Insight and Insight Web Extra.