The Idaho National Laboratory is one of the most important employers in the 16 counties of eastern Idaho. Despite recent and highly publicized layoffs, about 6,400 people work at the national research laboratory for the government and its contractors.
The INL in the coming years will experience an increasingly aging workforce. Large numbers of employees are in their 50s and 60s, representing both a challenge for the INL and an opportunity for many Idahoans seeking high-wage technology jobs.
The INL is the nation’s lead facility for nuclear research, addressing America’s growing need for energy from nuclear and other sources.
Established in 1949, the laboratory’s value to eastern Idaho goes far beyond the high-paying jobs it adds to the economy. It produces valuable research, often with commercial potential, in many different technological and scientific fields including biology, nuclear energy, hybrid energy systems, bioenergy, robotics and nuclear nonproliferation.
As a result the INL has helped launch over 40 technology-related companies and has issued over 500 licenses to companies for discoveries made at the laboratory.
While many businesses have benefited – and will continue to benefit – eastern Idaho’s workforce has the opportunity to take advantage of the job openings created by retirements of the INL’s aging workforce. Nuclear engineers and nuclear technicians will especially be in the spotlight.
According to data from Economic Modeling Specialists International, there are currently 87 nuclear engineers working in that field in counties surrounding the INL, and 55 of them are 45 to 64 years old. The entry level hourly wage in Idaho for a nuclear engineer is $37.49, and the median wage is $51.63.
The data also show an aging population of nuclear technicians. Of the 22 workers in that occupation in and around the INL, 16 are 45 to 64 years old.
Also experiencing a rapidly aging workforce at the INL are electrical engineers – 54 percent of them in eastern Idaho are 45 to 64 years old. Sixty-two percent of the industrial engineers are between 45 and 64.
All of these are comparatively high-wage occupations, and there are 200 electrical and industrial engineers in eastern Idaho.
With so many older engineers in the workforce, there is a great opportunity for young people to obtain the necessary education to fill these jobs as they come open in the future. Most engineers in eastern Idaho hold a four-year college degree in their specific field, and the majority of nuclear technicians have a two-year technical degree in that area.
Idaho State University’s College of Science and Engineering offers bachelor’s degrees in nuclear and electrical engineering and graduate degrees in nuclear engineering, applied physics and measurement and control engineering.
The school’s College of Technology offers two- and four-year vocational degree programs in engineering technology, electrical engineering technology and nuclear operations technology. The College of Technology has more than a 90 percent placement rate for its graduates.
Currently the average annual full-time tuition is $6,344 a year at Idaho State University.
Dan.Cravens@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
(208) 236-6710 ext. 3713
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This article originally appeared in the September issue of the Idaho Department of Labor’s monthly economic and employment newsletter. Interested in reading more articles like this? Please send an email to Donna.Corn@labor.idaho.gov to subscribe to the newsletter.