"Our folks are routinely highly sought after because of their skills, but this helps them know what opportunities are available in the commercial nuclear business," Trautman said.
Georgia Power and South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. are the first two utilities in the United States to win approvals to build new nuclear units from scratch in nearly three decades. But the need for workers stretches beyond that. Utilities operate 104 nuclear reactors in the United States. Engineers, technicians and maintenance workers will be needed to replace retiring employees.
"There's a potential for high turnover," because of the retirements, said Randy Edington, executive vice president and chief nuclear officer for Phoenix-based Arizona Public Service Co. The utility operates three reactors including the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, which is the nation's largest reactor.
Edington said he's hired 800 employees in the past four years and plans to hire another 800 in the next four. In the meantime, 700 workers have retired.
The community colleges and technical schools already have been a training ground for utilities such as Southern Nuclear and its sister company, Georgia Power. The companies recently hired a group of graduates from Augusta Technical College's nuclear engineering technology program to work at the Vogtle 3 and 4 units.
Augusta Technical has had about twice as many applicants for its nuclear engineering technology program, which prepares students to work at Vogtle or other nuclear plants.
"They are coming in at kind of our entry level and can develop and progress," Kuczynski said. "Our industry has really been built off of this expertise."