August/September 2009

Bridge to the future workforce

Last fall, Tom Gardner was one of more than 40 students working toward an associate of applied science degree in radiation-protection technology at Chattanooga State Community College. The owner of the Donut Palace in Dayton, Tenn., Gardner was looking for a new career challenge. “There are lots of opportunities for employment in the nuclear industry, which is a bright spot in this economy,” says Gardner. His 19-year-old son, Brett, is starting the program this fall.


Tom Gardner checks fellow student Marsha Johnson for contamination. Gardner and Johnson are in the radiation-protection technology program at Chattanooga State Community College.

Chattanooga State reinstated its rad-tech program last fall at TVA’s request, as part of a collaboration in which TVA helped develop the curriculum and keep Chattanooga State up to date on evolving workforce needs and skills workers must have. Along with their regular curriculum, the students toured Sequoyah Nuclear Plant training center and had several guest speakers from TVA, including Ron Bruno, senior manager of Operator Experience & Industry Affairs in TVA Nuclear.

“We talked with the students about nuclear power and working in the industry,” says Bruno. “We told the students that we are always looking for new and better ways to do things, and no matter what job you’re doing in nuclear, human performance is as important as all the technical knowledge.”

The collaboration grew from an initiative by the Nuclear Energy Institute and the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations to create a common curriculum guide for community colleges. “The Chattanooga State program builds a bridge between higher education and industry, to the benefit of Chattanooga State and its students, as well as TVA,” says Bruno.


From left, Tim McGhee, dean of the engineering technology division at Chattanooga State, and TVA’s Ron Bruno collaborate on the program that will provide skilled workers for the nuclear industry.

TVA Nuclear is working on similar collaborations with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Ala.

“This industry is growing,” says Tim McGhee, dean of the engineering technology division at Chattanooga State. “And we know there will be a demand for more workers.”

Along with many utilities in the Southeast planning to build or expand nuclear units, TVA expects to hire about 250 workers a year to replace retiring nuclear employees, another 440 in the next three years to work at Watts Bar Unit 2, as well as those who will be needed over the long term if the proposed units at Bellefonte are built.