Education and training at NUKEM Technologies GmbH
Demographic transformation is one of the major challenges facing the economy today. Companies that are dependent upon knowledge transfer are particularly exposed to the potentially negative impact caused by an increasingly ageing population. The “transition from old to new knowledge,” which is determined by a transfer from older to younger generations, has indeed become quite a challenge. Furthermore, the negative image of nuclear energy in Germany and its planned phase-out have brought about a situation in which fewer and fewer students are deciding to study nuclear technology. Researchers and politicians, therefore, fear that Germany might suffer a dangerous loss of nuclear engineering competence.
Like many other companies in the nuclear technology industry, NUKEM Technologies GmbH is affected by the steadily declining number of nuclear technology students and the resultant scarcity of junior engineers and physicists with expert knowledge that this situation implies. The imminent retirement of specialised employees threatens to create a knowledge deficit that needs to be redressed promptly. Because there are hardly any qualified university graduates in this specialised area, a solution must be found to pass on this specialist knowledge internally in order to give engineers and commercial staff within the company this vital specialised knowledge.
This is why the NUKEM-UNI (university) was launched in April 2008. The lectures at NUKEM-UNI are given by external experts and internal specialists. NUKEM-UNI courses are aimed at young engineers who can broaden their nuclear technology knowledge. In this way, NUKEM helps to overcome two difficulties: firstly, young engineers are familiarised with the specific NUKEM knowledge and know-how to compensate for the fact that there are almost no nuclear engineering graduates on the labour market and, secondly, the company doesn’t lose this vital knowledge when older employees retire. Young engineers, therefore, can benefit from the knowledge passed on to them by their older and more experienced colleagues. Furthermore, other interested employees have a possibility to gain an insight into other corporate divisions outside their own specialised area through lectures that give them basic technical and commercial knowledge. A NUKEM-UNI lecture lasts for about 1.5 hours on average, including a short break. Attendance is voluntary and the lectures take place outside working hours.
There is also an organised mentoring programme especially tailored to young engineers. Generally, a mentor or “patron” is assigned to each new engineering employee. Selection of these mentors is made according to their knowledge and experience, which is passed on to their designated successors or “protégés” during the course of their daily work on joint tasks or projects. The new employee has the benefit of gaining specialist knowledge that was frequently acquired during the era when nuclear technology flourished and which is, therefore, mostly unobtainable today through direct practical experience. One example of this is the planned construction of a plant in South Africa for producing high-temperature fuel elements, a facility comparable to the one which NUKEM operated for many years through its HOBEG subsidiary. A team was formed specifically for this project consisting of experienced employees and highly qualified engineers at the start of their careers who worked outstandingly well together. In the end, not only did they successfully complete this project, but they also enabled the transfer of knowledge about the plant to a new generation of engineers.
In addition to receiving such specialist knowledge, thanks to this kind of patronage, the trainee also acquires experience in daily matters of work organisation and frequently profits too from the general experience of his patron. The mentors, on the other hand, are given the possibility to call into question conventional paths and methods and actively pass on their knowledge, of which they are often rightly proud. Progress with this process is usually monitored and overseen by the hierarchy.
Refresher courses are also held regularly. These are organised by NUKEM with the aim of transferring knowledge. They include learning to master working tools, developing cost awareness, learning the basics of costs management and acceptance and practical organisational demands, as well as compliance with safety regulations.
Communicating this knowledge leads in turn to quality improvements and enhanced efficiency, which contribute to the company’s economic success. Participation is mandatory and partly required by law, whereby the composition of the target groups is dependent upon the topic in question. This series of training courses currently covers sixteen topics and work is in progress to offer more. The lecturers here are employees and the events are designed to last for roughly one hour. This education takes place internally and during working hours.
Bea Riecken, NUKEM Technologies GmbH, Industriestr. 13, 63755 Alzenau