An employee stands at a booth and speaks to a student at a career fair
UCOR Chief Engineer Christie Sudduth speaks with a student at Tennessee Tech University’s career fair. The partnership with Tennessee Tech is one of the newest in a university consortium with UCOR.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. – Developing and maintaining a trained workforce is essential to continue advancing cleanup progress happening across DOE’s Oak Ridge Reservation.

With a significant percentage of the workforce eligible to retire in the next decade, Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) contractor UCOR is exploring new opportunities to build a pipeline of local qualified workers needed to maintain momentum at the site.

In one such effort, the contractor is looking to colleges and universities in the region to help shape the next generations of workers.

Building on past successes, the goals have become more ambitious with the establishment of a university consortium to formalize, sustain and expand partnerships with higher education institutions.

The consortium has provided a coordinated approach to partnerships with educational institutions, while growing opportunities. UCOR’s partnerships have grown to include the University of Tennessee, Roane State Community College, Pellissippi State Community College, Benedict College, Florida International University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Murray State University, Tennessee State University and, most recently, Tennessee Tech University.

“Developing and maintaining a trained workforce is essential to the future of companies like ours,” UCOR President and CEO Ken Rueter said. “Our industry needs the leaders that this program is producing. In Oak Ridge alone, there are jobs for decades to come associated with environmental cleanup.”

Students in a lecture room look at and listen to the man speaking at the front of the room

UCOR Nuclear Operations Manager Tommy Morgan speaks to students during a seminar at Tennessee State University. The contractor provides leadership and subject matter experts to participate in guest lecture series with the university.

The university consortium has proven beneficial to Oak Ridge’s cleanup mission as well as the students and schools involved. OREM and its contractors are attracting top talent, while students have a better awareness of impactful careers with advancement opportunities.

UCOR also supports the schools by offering the expertise of its executives and subject matter experts. These employees serve on the schools’ advisory boards and support curriculum development. In some partnerships, UCOR also provides scholarship endowments and support for first generation students.

The contractor also plans a calendar of activities for each school that includes student seminars, guest lecture series, student organizations and chapter meetings, demonstrations with state-of-the-art equipment unavailable in classrooms, and senior projects. These plans promote innovative learning and professional development.

A man stands behind a desk and lectures to a college class
UCOR President and CEO Ken Rueter speaks to University of Tennessee students during an engineering colloquium series.

The university consortium is the latest initiative to cultivate the workforce of the future at Oak Ridge. In recent years, UCOR teamed up with higher education institutions to create educational opportunities that prepare students to work in the cleanup at Oak Ridge.

Through a partnership with the University of Tennessee’s nuclear engineering department and Oak Ridge Associated Universities, UCOR established the nation’s first minor degree in nuclear decommissioning and environmental management. The first students graduated with that focus in 2018.

UCOR then partnered with Roane State to support its efforts to create an associate degree in chemical engineering technology. The contractor also partnered with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations’ metal trades department to work with Roane State on offering a chemical operator program that provides students coursework and hands-on training through apprenticeships.

-Contributor: Shannon Potter