Academic journal article Journal of Technology Studies

Evaluation of a Nuclear Energy Production Technology Program

Academic journal article Journal of Technology Studies

Evaluation of a Nuclear Energy Production Technology Program

Article excerpt

PROJECT BACKGROUND

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) over one-third of the current workforce in the industry may be retiring within the next five years, which will require training and hiring about 25,000 new workers (NEI, 2010). To address the projected shortage of energy industry professionals for the region it serves, the community college in this study, through a partnership with the local energy industry, developed an Energy Production Technology degree program to give local individuals looking for employment the opportunity to prepare for high-skilled, high-wage jobs in the energy field. Due to feedback from local energy employers, the community college was sought out, because, historically, the commercial nuclear industry counted on the U.S. Navy to provide technicians for civilian jobs, but the size of this group has decreased over the years while the demand has increased.

This program was developed in part by following the curriculum outline that was established by the Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program (NUCP) created in 2007 by NEI. The NUCP was created as a quasi-accreditation process to guide community colleges to help power plants staff their future workforce, and it is a standardized program for educating operators and technicians for jobs at nuclear plants (NEI, 2010). Based on a review of the literature, prior to 2007, there is little evidence of a concerted effort between nuclear power plants and community colleges to engage in such a partnership. The NUCP program requires a common curriculum regarding plant equipment and systems, science and mathematics, and technical electives in a student's chosen focus area (chemistry, operations, health, physics, radiation protection, and maintenance).

Regardless of NEI involvement, prior to the development of an energy-focused program, one of the concerns often unfamiliar to any college that attempts to develop such a degree program is that the power production industry is highly regulated. According to Laraia and Dlouhy (1999), "the laws and regulations are often complex and overlapping, involving several government ministries, departments, and/or agencies. These laws and regulations typically provide licensing of various aspects of the nuclear industry, government oversight, setting of standards (both technical and environmental), and protection of human health from radiological (and other) hazards" (p. 40). Safety is a preeminent concern in the nuclear industry, not only for its own sake, but also because of its sensitivity in terms of public perception and, formally, because of national and regional regulations and international agreements (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD], 2012). Local Energy partners supported this, by characterizing the importance of a high level of education and training to maintain the level of safety necessary for the plants to run successfully.

RATIONALE FOR THE STUDY

The purpose of this research was to determine the perceived success of the new Energy Production Technology program created in partnership with a community college and its local business and industry service district. It was essential to assess the feedback process within this partnership to determine if the program was yielding effective results as perceived by program graduates and their employers. Equally important was to determine the role played by the advisory committee that was developed to implement and provide oversight to the program.

A principal goal of community colleges is to ensure that the workers in the region they serve have the educational tools needed to survive in today's job market (Government Accountability Office, 2008). In order for any degree program to remain viable and relevant, it must prepare highly skilled individuals who are aligned with the changing needs of a given industry. To do this, the labor force and educational organizations should be structured around integrated education, training, and program evaluation processes (Government Accountability Office, 2008). …

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