By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Like any technical company, Knoxville-based Analysis and Measurement Services Corporation (AMS) is always concerned about workforce availability, particularly at a time when the importance of nuclear energy has never been higher.
“I need 30 to 40 staff,” H. M. “Hash” Hashemian, AMS’ President and Chief Executive Officer, says. The need extends beyond engineers to administrative people as well.
It helps that Knoxville is home to one of the nation’s oldest and most respected Departments of Nuclear Engineering at the University of Tennessee. Yet, Hashemian notes there are not enough engineers, particularly in the Knoxville job market that he describes as “very hot.” Adding to the problem are immigration laws that make it more challenging to hire non-U.S. citizens.
“We are finding people,” he says, adding that he frequently conducts interviews on the weekend to accommodate the schedules of interviewees. AMS is also mindful of being competitive in both salary and benefits, using Oak Ridge National Laboratory as a key benchmark.
Recruiting and retaining highly-qualified people is a key for AMS as it serves clients in this country as well as Europe and Asia.
Hashemian is a frequent traveler to other countries, meeting with colleagues at international nuclear industry conferences and regularly serving as a keynote speaker. Those activities have given him a distinct view of the industry – over the years and into the future.
“In 2008 everything was going gangbusters for the nuclear industry,” he says, adding that several things changed the landscape.
“The economic downturn impacted nuclear,” Hashemian says. “Growth (demand for energy) was not as great as anticipated.”
Then, there was the 2011 earthquake in Japan, the resulting damage to four reactor buildings at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, and the fallout from the accident. Other key factors affecting the industry were the success of fracking and the resulting low price of natural gas, the rise of renewables and subsidies for them, and the deregulation of markets.
In spite of these factors, Hashemian is bullish on the industry sector.
His optimism starts with AMS’ base of operations being in the South and the fact that his firm services almost every U.S. nuclear plant.
“We support the existing fleet of power plants that are on average 30 years old,” Hashemian says. “We are focused on helping maintain them. They’re looking at an 80-year horizon.”
There’s also the reality that this region is the location where two new nuclear plants are being constructed – one each in Georgia and South Carolina. Then, there’s the fact that nuclear is clean, something that is becoming increasingly important.
“Nuclear is going to be recognized as a major way to address environmental concerns,” Hashemian says.
Couple all of these positive factors with one other.
“This country is responsible for almost all of the technology used in nuclear today,” Hashemian.
For a company with 20 issued or pending patents, a 38-year history of performance, established products, and an international footprint, how could you not be optimistic?