During a September Pantex onboarding session, new employees learn about the opportunities offered at Pantex and Y-12 and how all employees play a vital role in meeting the mission.
In new employee orientations, incoming Pantexans and Y-12ers are greeted with a simple, but vital message: Every single employee’s contributions are integral to securing the mission of national security. The mission is so important that one of the top priorities of the National Nuclear Security Administration is to continue building the workforce of the future.
Despite the ongoing global pandemic, CNS was able to surpass its hiring goal in FY 2021 due to innovative efforts by human resources, recruitment, hiring managers, and financial analysts. The goal for FY 2021 was to hire 1,277 CNS employees. Between Pantex and Y-12, 1,353 external hires were made.
How has the hiring process evolved?
While requisitions have continued to increase in the last 5 years, the new hiring process at CNS has made a significant difference in recruiting and onboarding top talent this past fiscal year. In 2019, the Human Resources Business Partnerships organization was created, which brought hiring managers, human resources, and financial personnel to the same table to proactively discuss hiring needs for each upcoming fiscal year.
“This new process dramatically changed how we approached hiring and recruitment within CNS,” said Amy Moran, HR strategy and operations director. “Instead of being reactionary, we are having proactive conversations with each organization to determine personnel needs and make sure hiring aligns with funding.”
Groups meet monthly to review metrics to determine whether hiring benchmarks are being met and, if not, what actions need to be taken to meet those benchmarks. The metrics include new hire data, terminations, attrition rates, and internal transfers. The system also takes into account the length of time it takes to recruit new employees, including security clearance time and onboarding training.
“Using the metrics gives us a springboard for conversation and a way to routinely measure if we are meeting our quarterly goals. There have been instances that being able to review this data together has helped us prevent personnel shortages when the unexpected happens,” said Heather Freeman, HR business partnerships director. “We’re able to pivot more quickly and update recruitment strategies in order to make sure our organizations have the resources they need.”
How are we recruiting new employees?
In the past, CNS often relied on in person job fairs, its career listing page, and recruiters reaching out to some potential candidates. Over the last fiscal year, recruitment for the next generation of nuclear security professionals has more aggressively moved to the digital space.
“We have made intense efforts on building our digital brand to recruit top talent for CNS,” said Amanda Hurley, recruitment and placement senior manager. “We’re using proactive recruiters, LinkedIn and Indeed’s recruitment tools, and applicant data tracking databases. Instead of waiting for top hires to find us, we are seeking them out.”
How is this affecting CNS organizations?
A group that has seen a significant increase in hiring over the past few years is Y-12 Infrastructure. The organization holds nearly 1,100 employees, with more than 100 hires needed each year. Y-12 Infrastructure has had a dramatic increase in workload along with a heavy retirement wave. Andy Huff, Y-12 Infrastructure deputy manager, shared that the new hiring and recruitment process has made quite a difference for the organization — so much so that they have already met their hiring headcount for FY 2022.
“This new hiring process really comes down to a simple concept: speaking a common language. Human Resources came to the table and started proactively communicating, while being committed to finding a solution to a more efficient process,” Huff said. “This in turn has helped reduce overtime and has increased employee morale within our organization.”
The hiring growth over the last fiscal year was made possible through an enterprise wide effort. Thanks to current Pantexans and Y-12ers, the workforce of the future continues to be built day by day.
“We’re very proud of efforts made over the last year. From Occupational Health personnel fulfilling pre employment physicals at a record pace, to our hiring managers conducting highly efficient interview processes, we have grown our greatest asset: our people,” Moran said. “The mission is essential. We don’t have the luxury to not fulfill these needs, and everyone stepped up to the challenge.”
A more than 30-year tradition continued recently as Amarillo Women in Science Endeavors (WISE) offered sixth-, seventh-, and eighth- grade girls a chance to experience science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) at a fun, hands-on conference. WISE hosted approximately 300 middle school girls from around the Texas Panhandle for workshops led by women in STEM fields.
Thanks to sponsorships from companies like CNS, attendees received breakfast, lunch, a goodie bag, and participated in three sessions with titles like Surgical Hospital, Bugs are for Girls, Rubber Band Helicopters, and We Be-Lung Together.
Stephanie Steelman, Pantex polymer chemist, led a session called Polymers All Around You to show the girls everyday uses of polymers.
“WISE helps the girls see that science is not hard, and it can be fun in a lot of situations,” said Steelman. “Opening that mental block that they’re not going to be good enough is what we have to overcome. We want to be here to tell all of them that they are good enough to do anything that they put their mind to.”
Nicole Kaufman, Pantex analytical chemistry specialist, agreed that girls having exposure to STEM at a young age shows them that they have the ability to be successful in the fields.
“I see myself in these girls,” said Kaufman. “Sometimes you get that imposter syndrome, so to have someone tell you at a young age that you can do something is really important.”
After taking a year off due to COVID-19 restrictions, the WISE committee was excited to be back with a record number of registrations.
“We had an overwhelmingly positive response to the event this year,” said Allison Roberts, WISE committee member and Pantex Communications specialist. “Our goal is to encourage as many future scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and technology professionals as possible through this annual conference and our scholarship program.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women make up nearly half of the workforce, but only about 27% of STEM workers.
“We are still lacking women in those fields, and women have the capability of thinking in a different way than men,” said Steelman. “We need that diversity in our workforce.”
Every second counts when someone is trapped in a vehicle, and the Pantex Fire Department trains to be prepared to respond to accidents at a moment’s notice.
Pantex Fire Department participates in extrication training annually to give firefighters an opportunity to learn new techniques they will use in real life situations and train with equipment. While extrication equipment is used several times a year by the Pantex Fire Department on the highways and roads that surround the plant, these trainings allow them to get experience with equipment not used every day.
“The new techniques are necessary because of the constant improvements in vehicle construction and engineering,” Jeremy Baker, Pantex Fire Department captain, said. “These changes improve the safety of occupants, but make extrication more challenging for firefighters. We design our scenarios to challenge firefighters, providing them with opportunities to utilize critical decision-making strategies that are required in real life situations.”
From time to time, Pantex also partners with neighboring fire departments for trainings.
“We’ve trained with Claude and Washburn fire departments, which are mutual aid partners,” Baker said. “By working with these departments, it allows us to work together as one cohesive group on actual emergency scenes.”
During their most recent training, firefighters were instructed on numerous scenarios that allowed them to use their critical thinking, knowledge, and expertise to remove victims involved in difficult extractions that would challenge even the most experienced firefighters. The scenarios covered the use of new stabilization equipment, medical knowledge, lifting vehicles, and extrication techniques.
Shoulders are common problem spots for physical therapy patients. Y-12 physical therapist Gary Hall examines the arm of a client.
Not many employers offer on-site physical therapy, so let’s meet the LiveWise physical therapists and physical therapist assistants who help improve the health of Pantexans and Y-12ers.
For Y-12 physical therapist Gary Hall, sitting for long periods should come with a Surgeon General’s warning.
“Sitting is the new smoking,” he said.
The American Physical Therapy Association acknowledges people’s sedentary tendencies. The organization focuses on the importance of physical activity and how physical therapy helps people to move.
According to the organization, inadequate physical activity adds $117 billion annually in health care costs in the United States and results in reduced quality of life for millions of Americans.
“We are more sedentary than we have been,” said Pantex physical therapist Cody McClary. “We’re not getting out as much. We’re not walking with the dog or the family. We’re not exercising the ways we should. Exercise helps our muscles stay strong and loose.”
One reason for the reduced activity is the COVID-19 pandemic. It has changed how people live, which includes how they work. Like many companies across the country, teleworking from home has become the norm at Pantex and Y-12. This means many hours sitting at a desk, kitchen counter, or dining room table, staring at a computer screen. Or in Hall’s case, on the couch.
“One day I was at home teleworking,” he recalled. “I’ve got my laptop, knees hunched up. My wife walked in and said, ‘It’s a good thing no one can see you right now.’ To say the least, I was not at optimal positioning.”
Slumped shoulders while seated for work is an example of improper positioning.
“When you sit at the computer, the head naturally migrates towards the monitor,” Hall explained, “which causes the shoulders to round over. You have to pull your shoulders back. This will help strengthen the muscles between the shoulder blades.”
Rounded shoulders can cause back issues, neck pain, and rotator cuff problems.
“More Pantexans ask about their wrists and hands,” McClary said. “They are feeling numbness and tingling, pain in the wrist. It’s because of bad ergonomics.”
To help alleviate discomfort from extended sitting, the prescription is to simply move.
“Take as many breaks as you can,” McClary suggested, “This will help get the blood flowing.”
He also recommended stretching to help relieve the body. For the hands, McClary likes to use stress putty, while making a fist, then extending the fingers. Also rubber bands can be placed around fingers to create resistance, strengthening them.
For the shoulders and back, McClary advocates the “field goal” stretch, where the hands are placed on each side of a doorway, while slightly shifting the weight forward. Also helpful are big and small shoulder circles, forward and back.
In addition to helping people deal with teleworking aches and pains, the physical therapists are helping with those recovering from COVID-19.
“Many are COVID long haulers,” Hall said. “The main problem is deconditioning. They find out they are unable to do certain activities when they try to go back to their normal work routines. Everything doesn’t return at the same rate. There’s weakness in the trunk and spine. They’ve lost strength in the peripheral muscles in the arms and legs. Some have lost the ability to maintain a posture to even type.”
Pantex physical therapist Cody McClary applies pressure to a patient’s back to help alleviate discomfort.
McClary added, “The heart and lungs were so stressed [during the bout with the virus], walking from the parking lot is extremely difficult. I’m sure we’re going to see more and more patients with these issues.”
Also, the therapists may experience a surge in seasonal patients.
“Fall is big for physical therapy clinics,” Hall said. “People are very task focused doing yardwork, like raking and bagging leaves, and they think ‘I have this entire yard of leaves; I need to take care of it today.’ A lot of times they don’t use the proper mechanics and may not have the proper core strength, which causes them to strain something and overuse muscles.”
McClary added, “Core strength is the most important aspect of your body. The core is the first group of muscles activated when you do anything. It really needs to be the strongest muscle group. A strong core protects the discs and the nerve structures around those discs in the back and can prevent injuries.”
In addition to tackling ailments due to teleworking, COVID-19, and weekend activities, the physical therapists treat post surgical patients who have undergone such procedures as knee and hip replacements, carpal tunnel surgery, heart surgery, and more.
“It can take six months to a year to recover from a surgery,” McClary said. “That could include three or four months of therapy, maybe even six months.”
Physical therapy is a free service for employees at both sites. However, a medical referral is required to receive treatment. All physical therapy evaluations and appointments must be on the employee’s own time.
“Working with people is very cool,” Hall said. “It’s really gratifying when you can help patients achieve their best.”
Pantexan Edward Graef and Y-12 Matthew Willard (not pictured) are part of the Sandia Weapon Intern Program, Class of 2022.
Two CNS employees are joining the ranks of the prestigious Sandia Weapon Intern Program (WIP) for the class of 2022. Edward Graef, Pantex physics senior specialist, and Matthew Willard, Y-12 process engineer, began the program in August 2021.
Both Graef and Willard are looking forward to the program, saying it is considered by many within the Nuclear Security Enterprise (NSE) to be a “once in a career” opportunity.
“I have had the opportunity to meet and work with so many other capable people at Pantex that it was humbling to know I was selected from among them for this opportunity,” said Graef.
“I was both humbled and excited about the opportunity,” said Willard. “It also comes with the realization that I am a representative of all of us here at Y-12.”
WIP was created by Sandia National Laboratories as a formal mechanism to pass decades of tribal knowledge down to the next generation of scientists, engineers, and leaders. The year-long program begins with classroom work and learning in the first six months, along with site visits, and research assignments. During the final months, participants are embedded in various organizations across Sandia to work on specific projects.
Both CNS participants are looking forward to learning from and working with other WIP interns and mentors from across the abbr title="Nuclear Security Enterprise">NSE.
“The collaborations will further expand my technical and leadership capabilities to better address our stewardship missions,” said Graef.
“One topic that I look forward to learning the most is about the lifecycle of the weapon systems,” said Willard. “Specifically, how DoD requirements turn into designs, those designs eventually become physical systems, and how those physical systems are assessed and certified throughout their lifetime so that they will function as intended if ever needed to.”
Over the course of the program, the interns will learn skills and knowledge that they’ll be able to bring back to their teams at Pantex and Y-12.
“I want to bring back a more refined set of communication skills and a better understanding of the abbr title="Nuclear Security Enterprise">NSE's needs for our evolving role in stockpile stewardship and safety,” said Graef. “For Pantex as a whole, I want to bring back clearer goals to advance our modeling and simulation based engineering approaches to help address plant needs while also improving the safety and security of our workforce and the stockpile.”
Willard looks forward to the benefits of knowledge and professional relationships he will build. “Increased knowledge helps in understanding the ’why‘ when we may be asked to do things a certain way, that may be different from what we are used being asked to by our customers, and those relationships provide lines of communication throughout the NSE as we all continue our careers.”
Congratulations to Graef and Willard on their internships.