July 15, 2008

Workforce Training Partnership With Duke Energy

By McKenzie, Lawrence J

The nuclear energy industry faces a critical shortage of workers over the next five years. According to Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) surveys conducted in 2004 and 20051, up to 23,000 workers may be eligible to retire, representing 40 percent of all jobs in the sector. Additionally, nearly half of industry employees are more than 47 years old and as of 2007, less than 4 percent of the nuclear technician workforce is under the age of 33. To meet the current and future employment needs of Duke Energy's aging radiation protection technician workforce, the company launched an Associate Degree program in Occupational Technology with a major in Radiation Protection Technology (AOT/RPT) at Spartanburg Community College (SCC) in South Carolina.

The seeds of the program date back to 2006 when then-Chief Nuclear Officer Henry Barron approached the college with the idea. Under the joint venture, SCC faculty members teach freshmen core classes and Duke Energy instructors teach sophomores the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) accredited radiation protection curriculum. This approach is unique to the industry.

Program competencies and course learning outcomes were derived from the attributes of top-quality junior radiation protection technicians, as defined by a team of SCC faculty and Duke Energy radiation protection line managers. These attributes also incorporate INPO guidelines for training and qualification of radiological protection technicians.2

The program requires 73 credits for the Associate Degree in Occupational Technology with a major in Radiation Protection (AOT/ RPT) and requires five semesters. The freshman year provides a challenging two-semester program with general education courses totaling 37 credits that include Algebra, science, English, chemistry, geometry and trigonometry, computer theory and applications, microcomputer spreadsheets, communications and general psychology.

In addition, the college asked the utility to teach a first semester course to freshmen (RPT 101 "Introduction to Radiation Protection Technology") that includes a field trip/plant tour of an operating Duke Energy reactor. This helps students make an informed decision on whether they want to make a commitment to the curriculum as their major course of study. Approximately 10 percent of each freshman cohort withdraws from the program after the tour. Students who withdrew cited the industrial work environment, requirements for gaining unescorted access to a nuclear facility such as drug screens and FBI background checks or the "hassle" of going through plant security's metal and explosive detectors as deterring factors.

A minimum grade of "C" is required in all freshman courses to advance to the sophomore year. In addition, the college developed a weighted point system to select the most qualified students who will enter the second year of study. For example, an "A" grade in math and science courses equates to 7 points, a "B" equals 6 points, a "C" equals 5 points and so on. Less rigorous courses such as computer literacy and communication have smaller values ("A" = 6, "B" = 5, and "C" = 4 points). Students with the highest cumulative point totals enter the sophomore year of the program.

The second year consists of three semesters starting in the summer session immediately upon completing freshman course work. Thirty six credits make up this part of the curriculum and are taught by Duke Energy instructors who hold the title of Adjunct Faculty at the college. Specific course content regarding power plant fundamentals, radiation protection fundamentals, unescorted access training, and so on, are dictated by guidance documents emanating from INPO's National Academy for Nuclear Training.

To ensure the highest quality RP technician program, there are two 240-hour-minimum internships in the second year (fall and spring semesters). These occur at nearby Duke Energy nuclear power facilities and require a satisfactory plant supervisory evaluation prior to graduation. This part of the program gives hiring managers the opportunity to evaluate the potential for future performance.

RP Technician Pipeline

A total of 67 students enrolled in the first freshman class in 2006 with an inaugural sophomore class of 16 individuals graduating in May 2008; all 16 accepted utility positions prior to graduation. Currently, the college has more students interested in pursuing the degree than the 24 spaces available. This interest is maintained with an aggressive high school recruiting program that is shared between Duke and SCC faculty. This program creatively addresses the aging workforce and lack of skilled workers in the industry and provides job opportunities in the surrounding communities.


1 Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) http://wvirw.nei.org.

2 National Academy for Nuclear Training, (1993). ACAD 93-008, Guidelines for Training and Qualification of Radiological Protection Technicians.

By Lawrence J. McKenzie, Ph.D, Duke Energy

Author: Lawrence J. McKenzie is the lead instructor for the Initial Radiation Protection Training Program at Duke Energy's Catawba Nuclear Station, York, S.C. He serves as an Adjunct Faculty fir the AOT/RPTprogram at Spartanburg Community College. He earned his PhD in Educational Assessment and Evaluation at Washington State University, ficusing on assessment practices.

Copyright PennWell Publishing Company Jun 2008

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