UAE: Progress in balancing a multinational nuclear workforce

Building a workforce for a 5,600 MWe-nuclear power project within seven years should be difficult enough. Yet the UAE’s nuclear recruitment plans may be compounded with much more than the time factor. Wind Energy Update reports.

Although the UAE has four years to complete its first nuclear reactor, once this unit comes online in 2017, an additional reactor will become operational each year up to 2020 – when all four reactors are envisaged to be delivering electricity to the country.

For this ambitious plan to work, the UAE will need to have sufficient human resources – at least 2,000 by 2020 – to regulate, manage, operate, and maintain the country’s new Korean-made nuclear fleet. But this is not the challenging part.

The difficulty lies in ensuring that 60% of this workforce are UAE nationals, which is the responsibility of Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), the owner and operator of the UAE’s nuclear power plants and the entity in charge of building the nuclear human capacity.

Potential risk of high targets

Emiratization, or the increased participation of UAE nationals in both the public and private sectors, is a principal mechanism for fulfilling Abu Dhabi’s economic diversification goals and achieving long-term sustainability, given that locals have become a minority amidst the overwhelming multinational populace. In 2010, Emiratis accounted for a mere 11.5% of the country’s total population.

While international corporations can opt to pay fines if they were unsuccessful at finding UAE nationals to fill the quota, the country’s civil nuclear program, being a government enterprise, will be obliged to comply if Emiratization requirements were to be maintained.

In such circumstances, and in its drive to meet the 60% Emiratization goal, how will ENEC ensure that selected Emirati personnel are as qualified as the seasoned expatriate specialists – without jeopardizing the programme’s safety and security?

To begin with, it is worth noting that ENEC has already surpassed this target with its present workforce. “ENEC currently employs more than 650 employees; 67% of which are UAE nationals,” Fahad Al Qahtani, director of external affairs and communications at ENEC, tells Nuclear Energy Insider.

“The UAE has, from the very beginning, involved nuclear experts from around the world in the development of all aspects of the nuclear energy program, and human capacity development has been no exception to this,” he clarifies.

And while he admits that the UAE’s nuclear industry is at its earliest stages, he stresses that ENEC recognises the need for international expertise to help operate the first nuclear energy programme. “The experiences of other countries implementing nuclear energy programs have shown us that continued education and training is a critical part of the infrastructure needed to sustain a nuclear energy programme.”

Embracing employees

ENEC’s efforts in this area have been mainly channelled through its human capacity development programme – Energy Pioneers – which works towards three main objectives.

Firstly, to develop the next generation of nuclear energy talent by attracting the brightest UAE nationals to the industry through a range of higher education and scholarship opportunities; secondly, to recruit experienced professionals from all fields of expertise, including expatriates with nuclear experience as well as UAE nationals with relevant experience in the utility, power, or construction industry; and thirdly, to support the ongoing training and development of ENEC’s existing team.

As previously reported by Nuclear Energy Insider (, ENEC offers generous scholarships to sponsored students, providing monthly grants, accommodation, transportation, medical insurance, bi-annual air tickets for those studying abroad, and even marriage and child allowance.

“We are committed to investing in our people and have a dedicated training team who provide all ENEC employees with a tailored training programme. We combine in-house sessions with specialist external training to ensure staff continue to learn and develop throughout their careers,” says Al Qahtani.

ENEC estimates that when the first nuclear power plant opens at Barakah in 2017, around 2,000 will be working on the site and living in Al Ruwais with their families. This area in the Western Region, about 240 kilometres west of Abu Dhabi, is now undergoing major developments in preparation for this new community.

“The UAE is a multicultural and respectful society. We have a large, multinational team of men and women who have been working and living together on site for many months now. Staff accommodations and recreation facilities continue to be developed include housing, sports facilities, and retail. Over time, this will be expanded as our on-site team grows,” explains Al Qahtani.

Strategic sectors compete for talent

Competition from other domestic sectors poses another challenge to the UAE’s nuclear programme, according to a study by Brookings Energy Security Initiative (

To achieve economic diversification, Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 has set a high target of non-oil sector related GDP of 64%, and to support this vision, the emirate has been developing several strategic industries, such as aerospace, semiconductors and renewable energy.

Each of these sectors is expected to provide additional demand on the country’s limited pool of talent, as the Brookings study projects, which means that additional efforts may be needed to attract engineering graduates to the local nuclear industry.

However, Al Qahtani notes that while the nuclear industry is young in the UAE, it is already proving to be an attractive industry for people seeking employment. In addition, ENEC’s Energy Pioneers programme has been receiving an increased number of applications year on year.

“ENEC is also one of the most sought after governmental organisations for employment. It was ranked as being among the top five employers by UAE nationals according to a research conducted and published by GulfTalent earlier in 2013,” he says.

Benefitting from international guidance

Meanwhile, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) will also need to recruit a sufficient number of qualified staff to establish a comprehensive legal and regulatory framework for nuclear activities and to conduct all licensing procedures and inspections.

This staff, which is already in place, largely comprises of expatriates. But like ENEC, FANR plans to develop a skilled team of UAE nationals to take on an increasing amount of responsibilities while retaining a considerable portion of international personnel. Both the Korean Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) and the IAEA have been instrumental in helping FANR build its human capacity.

Collaboration with the IAEA has in particular helped ENEC implement the commercial aspects of human resources development. For example, the IAEA’s training programmes, especially those which are tailored to country-specific needs, provide ENEC with the latest technological and economic data, and transfer international resources and expertise.

“We have made sure we participate in these workshops to develop our own capabilities and develop our internal training programs,” notes Al Qahtani.

In 2012 alone, ENEC participated in more than 14 IAEA capacity-building events covering various segments, from nuclear power plant construction and radioactive waste management, to the development of a national capability for response to nuclear or radiological emergencies.

ENEC’s approach to human capacity development has so far been successful, but as the country’s first nuclear unit comes closer to completion, this approach may be put to test once again, at which point decisions will have to be made concerning the proportion of expatriate personnel versus UAE nationals.

© Nuclear Energy Insider