Rewarding, reliable, exciting, unique. These four words can describe your new career in the nuclear energy industry.
DeWayne Walters, an Human Resources professional who works at the Duke Energy Robinson Nuclear Plant in Hartsville, S.C., understands what it takes to be a part of the nuclear industry. Over the course of his 21-year career, he has recruited, retained and developed nuclear employees. In addition to his HR experience, Walters began his career in nuclear as a training instructor, where he helped new employees understand the nuclear way of doing business. He shares his perspective on five of the most common questions for those considering a career in nuclear energy.
1. How can someone know if a career in nuclear is right for them?
A nuclear worker has chosen a profession that matters not only from the standpoint of producing electricity safely, but it matters because nuclear workers are providing a service to customers to help their daily lives. As users of electricity ourselves, we all want our lights to turn on when we flip a switch, and having nuclear plants running around the clock, helps us have that reliable carbon-free electricity. This is a relatively small industry, and for someone who wants to work where what they do matters every day, this is the right path for them. Along those lines, we want someone who takes this responsibility seriously.
2. What does it take to have a successful career in nuclear energy?
Although a two or four-year technical degree is helpful in a competitive job market, a degree is not a requirement for working at a nuclear power plant. The vast majority of opportunities in nuclear require technical aptitude or ability. After all, nuclear power plants are large industrial facilities and require highly skilled employees who are able to operate and maintain it.
3. What are some of the career paths for nuclear energy careers?
There are several career paths for someone in nuclear, and each has its own requirements. In general, the career paths for someone starting their career would be in operations, maintenance, radiation protection, chemistry or engineering.
Historically nuclear operators were hired out of the nuclear Navy because they received training through the Navy’s nuclear education. Now, we hire operators from a variety of backgrounds and a degree is not required. However, in terms of being competitive, other credentials and education can help someone stand out. The biggest consideration for operators is to have technical aptitude. As with any of these roles, but especially with operators, someone can expect to go through an extensive training program upon being hired.
Nuclear maintenance or facilities positions may be of interest to someone who has technical and/or mechanical ability/aptitude and enjoys hands-on work, but is not planning to pursue a four-year degree. Although a degree is not required for all of these positions, additional education can help a candidate. A two-year technical degree in electronics or mechanical would be the way to go.
Radiation Protection and Chemistry
To work in radiation protection or chemistry, someone would typically have earned a science degree, such as chemistry, health physics or biology. Although the number of available positions in these disciplines is smaller, these roles are critical to fill, as there is always a need for high-performing employees in the roles of a technician or scientist.
For someone interested in a four-year degree, there’s engineering: mechanical, electrical, nuclear, civil or chemical. We have and need engineers in all technical disciplines. Whatever engineering discipline someone pursues, there are opportunities to work in nuclear power.
4. How can someone stand out when applying for a job in nuclear energy?
Nuclear power is unique and requires a unique candidate for any position. Not everyone has the background or skill set to work at a nuclear power plant. There are certain attributes or ways of looking at things that are important to come across during an application candidate selection process.
The first and most important attribute that sets someone apart is for them to be able to convey that safety is important to them. It’s the main driver for everything that’s done at a nuclear site, and a safety-conscious mindset will set a candidate apart.
The second attribute is to be able to have a balance between being an independent thinker and a rule follower. Nuclear power is an industry that values people thinking critically, objectively and confidently. We need employees who have a questioning attitude. At the same time, the nuclear power industry is extremely regulated. Almost everything we do has a procedure, guideline, policy or regulation.
Finally, an applicant can set themselves apart by demonstrating that they value collaboration. Everyone working at a nuclear power plant is working toward a common goal, and collaboration is key to safe and reliable operations. Whether it’s a task in the field, a project or initiative, an employee will most likely work with a team to accomplish an objective. Regardless of whether you are in engineering, maintenance, operations or another group, you can expect and should be comfortable working with someone in a different role than you on a regular basis. It’s very much a team mentality when it comes to working at a nuclear power plant, so show how you can be a valued teammate.
5. Are there pre-employment opportunities for students?
Yes. In fact, the best way to see if a career in nuclear is right for you is through one of our internship programs. These internships can – and in many cases have – led to a fulltime position after graduation. Stay up to date on opportunities by visiting the careers section of the Duke Energy website. On the website, you can learn about career options, use job search tools, set up job alerts and join our Talent Community to stay connected regarding job opportunities, including our internship or co-op offerings. Keep in mind most of our internships are posted in the fall.