On a fall afternoon, Senior Nuclear Engineer, Casey Klein, cracks jokes for a few dozen young professionals noshing on chips and queso. But, Klein is not hosting a get-together for his friends; he’s warming up the crowd for a talk on nuclear fuel design. His presentation is the latest in a series lead by Duke Energy’s North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NAYGN) members designed to transfer important knowledge to the next generation of nuclear energy professionals.
Dubbed “Subject Matter Experts of the Future” (SMEs of the Future), the program pairs a NAYGN member with an expert to share information on a specific nuclear topic. The NAYGN member then presents the topic to a broader audience to increase knowledge across the nuclear fleet. “We wanted to build a program that helped fill in the experience gaps between two generations,” explains Lee Causey, the fleet coordinator for Duke Energy’s NAYGN chapter. “SMEs of the Future is important to young nuclear professionals to ensure we are learning from the experiences that our older generation has spent a career developing.”
The program, which started in 2014, comes during a significant shift in nuclear workforce demographics. According to a 2015 study by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the nuclear industry labor force is getting younger. For the first time since 2003, the Nuclear Workforce Survey found a rise in the number of new hires in the 28-37 year age range. In an industry rapidly replacing retiring workers, knowledge transfer and retention is a hot topic.
But in a complex field like nuclear energy, knowing how to share expertise can be daunting. “SMEs of the Future gives each young professional a structure to start transferring knowledge,” Causey explains. The format encourages presenters to explore a topic in-depth while developing communication skills. It also broadens the knowledge base of those attending the talks. “[The presentations] help develop a young engineer and educate other engineers about different groups and subjects,” says Klein, who attended several talks before deciding to give one of his own.
Thinking about his own experience presenting, Klein noted that while he was familiar with the topic he chose, the expert he consulted gave him a historical perspective on fuel design. It’s precisely that experiential knowledge that the SMEs of the Future program is designed to share. “Many of our industry’s challenges are similar to events of our past and the minds of our current experts hold invaluable tools and experiences,” says Causey.
The program not only helps transfer knowledge, but also fosters relationships by providing mentors for young professionals. As the youngest person on his team when he started at Duke Energy, Klein feels fortunate to have had many mentors in the company to help guide him. “I had a lot of senior people to learn from. My first mentor was very easy to talk to and was always open.” That experience, Klein says, made his transition into a full-time career much easier and allowed him to be a productive team member early.
Since the first SMEs of the Future event was held at Harris Nuclear Plant, the program has evolved to include more formal presentations, which are now recorded and shared across Duke Energy’s nuclear fleet. The company’s NAYGN chapter anticipates additional opportunities for professional development from experienced teammates as the program continues in 2016. “Our company’s young generation is capable of amazing things,” Causey affirms,” and I am certain we will continue to rise to the challenges that come with the complexity and importance of safe nuclear generation.”