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Proactive People Planning Helps Nuclear Unit Thrive

June 1, 1996
Related Topics: Workforce Planning, Featured Article
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Harnessing and directing nuclear power is one of the most powerful processes on earth. It's also one of the most sophisticated. But harnessing the right talent to work on this process has become increasingly more difficult as new technologies require employees to apply advanced skills and abilities.

For Duke Power Co.'s nuclear businesses (three nuclear stations with seven reactors), taking a new look at workforce planning has made a lot of sense in staffing for the future. "In the past, we'd basically say, 'I'm short four operators.' And we'd go to human resources and say, 'I need some people.' There really was no planning for the workforce at all other than needing a certain amount of people," says Mike Tuckman, senior VP of nuclear generation for Duke Power. Now, thanks to the company's new workforce-planning model, more thought is given to how the business will get the right people when it needs them.

A key reason why the nuclear units needed a better handle on staffing has resulted from the business's downsizing over the past five years. In addition to downsizing its other businesses, Duke has reduced the number of staff in the nuclear business from 5,800 to 4,350 people since 1991. But when the company tried to transfer some downsized workers from other areas of the company into it's nuclear operations, it fell upon some interesting problems. For example, while internal applicants were willing to try new career paths, they tended to be mid-lifers who would be retirement age before they could reach supervisory level. The typical term between entry-level and supervisor of nuclear operations is 10 to 19 years—too long to wait for most career-changers.

"Using the workforce-planning model, we did a detailed analysis of the work that needed to be done—its physical and mental requirements with some [other] characteristics we were looking for in supervisors," says Tuckman. They looked at the demographics of the workforce and projected the loss rate—when people would either retire or leave the organization. "We came to the conclusion that even though the company as a whole was downsizing, we wouldn't meet our needs by continuing to transfer people in at an entry level within operations," he adds.

The solution? Rather than continue to hire high-school grads, who typically had filled nonlicensed operator positions in the past, the company decided to recruit and hire technical school graduates or ex-Navy nuclear operators instead. These were people who already had some advanced experience or affinity for nuclear operations. The plan is expected to significantly shorten the training path from nonlicensed operator to licensed senior reactor operator. By the end of 1996, Duke will have hired a total of 45 employees in this way since 1994—being careful to build the workforce with a diverse mix of individuals.

In addition to looking at its nuclear operations through the lens of the new workforce-planning tool, Duke's management team also has been paying closer attention to management development. "Previously, each site typically promoted from within and there was very little interaction [between staff at the three nuclear sites], or looking at individuals' management capabilities," says Tuckman. So, about three years ago, the nuclear units began to change that practice. The senior managers and human resources professionals from each site, along with corporate HR and vice presidents, began to sit down to examine every employee—from two management levels down in the nuclear organization down to entry level. "We wound up categorizing everybody relative to their performance, their potential as well as their development needs," explains Tuckman. "We made a series of planned moves of people to get them that experience."

What resulted has been a sharing of talent between sites and a much more aggressive development of high-potential employees over the past three years. "It really has had some good effects in broadening each station's perspective as well as in developing future managers," says Tuckman.

An important consideration for a business whose primary competitive advantage, in addition to its advanced technological capabilities, will be its people. "The company has a tremendous amount [of money] invested in capital equipment—pumps, valves, buildings, etc.," says Tuckman. "But the performance isn't so much tied to the equipment as it is to the knowledge and expertise of the people who run it. I view it as a strategic advantage."

Personnel Journal, June 1996, Vol. 75, No. 6, p. 50.

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