“Operational excellence begins with hiring the right people.”
That’s how Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides with NEI describes the impact that graduates of the nuclear engineering technology (NET) associate’s degree program have on Southern Nuclear and other nuclear organizations.
Graduates of the program – which is offered at both Augusta Technical College in Georgia and Wallace Community College in Alabama -- are a pipeline of candidates for nuclear power plant technicians, electrical and mechanical maintenance workers, instrumentation and control technicians, and non-licensed operations personnel.
The program began in 2012 to meet the hiring needs of Vogtle 3&4, although the graduates are qualified for positions at any nuclear power plant. “We have 60 of the best and the brightest from these schools working at Southern Nuclear,” says Nora Swanson, workforce development coordinator.
The program is recognized as a best practice throughout the industry. “These employees come to Southern Nuclear with great knowledge because of their studies and the internships they do at Plant Vogtle,” Swanson says. “We’ve been able to cut down on training costs because of what they’ve learned at school, and they have better throughput throughout their careers.”
Although graduates of the program aren’t guaranteed a job at Southern Nuclear, “We’ve been able to meet our hiring needs with the quality we required,” Swanson explains.
Two of the Augusta Tech graduates are Krystle Haskin, systems operator in training, Vogtle 3&4, and Steven Katic, nuclear plant operator in training, Vogtle 1&2. Here’s an overview of what interested them in the program and their experience both as a student and an SNC employee.
How did you initially hear about the NET program and why did you want to enroll?
Katic: “My wife saw a billboard advertisement for an information session at Augusta Tech. I had been out of school and in the workforce for nearly 11 years, and I had spent the last several years driving for various companies. The work became very monotonous, and I was looking for something more engaging.”
Haskin: “I heard about it through my chemistry professor while attending Georgia Southern University. I loved the exercise science major I was enrolled in, but I also realized that many people in the classes ahead of me were settling for jobs that could be attained with a certificate.
“Also, before starting college at Georgia Southern, I had an opportunity to work a temporary job as a laborer on the refuel floor at Hatch. I was completely fascinated by everything taking place and always kept the experience in the back of my mind. Once I heard about the NET program and the solid career paths it had to offer, I couldn’t resist.”
What was your impression of the program?
Katic: “The college and Vogtle instructors were dedicated to the success of each student, so I felt the support and commitment were with me to succeed. The program covered multiple disciplines, and I appreciated the broad knowledge and understanding that it provided me.”
Haskin: “The program appeared to be a lower-cost, two-year degree that offered great job security after completion. I also noticed the high job placement rates of previous classes, and I was very impressed with the education level and amount of nuclear experience of the instructors. Ultimately, everyone in my graduating class was offered jobs in the nuclear industry.”
What did you think about Plant Vogtle when you interned there? How did the internship reinforce your desire to work at the plant?
Haskin: “It was a great experience to be able to meet people in different career fields such as nuclear technicians and operators. It helped many of us decide what paths we wanted to pursue upon graduation.”
Katic: “I was intrigued by all the equipment and systems at the plant that had been discussed during the NET program. The Vogtle employees that guided me through the internship impressed upon me the special and unique nature of the nuclear industry. The operating experience that I learned from my interactions with some system operators further encouraged me.”
What has your experience been like since you were hired at Vogtle? Did you feel well prepared for your job?
Haskin: “I feel that I began with a very solid foundation from Augusta Tech. The experience so far has been great, and everyone is more than willing to help us in whatever way possible, whether it is showing us things in the simulator or showing us around the construction site.”
Katic: “The NET program at Augusta Tech prepared me with the skills and knowledge that were essential to a good foundation as a system operator. I was fortunate to begin my career at Vogtle as a SOIT, and my job has continued to build and reinforce the lessons I learned at Augusta Tech.”