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Remarks by President Rumina Velshi to the North American Young Generation in Nuclear organization

February 27, 2019

Ottawa, Ontario

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Good Afternoon,

My name is Rumina Velshi and I am the President and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, or CNSC. We regulate the nuclear industry in Canada. In other words, if a company wants to carry out an activity that involves nuclear technology, they need a licence from us which includes safety conditions and obligations that they must follow, and we oversee them to make sure that they do.

It is wonderful to see so many young, energetic and eager faces at today’s workshop. The level of talent and enthusiasm in today’s graduates is a good omen for the nuclear sector and its future. Now more than ever, the nuclear sector is a great place for future leaders to build their careers. You are all clearly bright, knowledgeable and capable professionals who are in the process of exploring your futures.

While you may have the degrees and credentials to support you, this alone is not enough. Successful careers don’t just depend on having the technical excellence and knowledge or what are often referred to as “hard skills”. In order to be well-rounded, it is becoming more and more apparent that “soft skills” are also necessary. In fact, research from the Stanford Research Institute and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation indicates that 75% of long-term success depends on your ability to master soft skills. Similarly, long-running research conducted by Google on its employees has revealed that while hard technical skills are important, they alone are not enough. The top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills, ranging from having empathy to being a strong communicator.

So, what exactly are we talking about? Don’t let the word “soft” fool you, these skills are essential. They are the key attributes which enable you to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. They are what I would refer to as people skills, and they certainly depend a lot on your confidence and your ability to communicate. They encompass your ability to be a team player, and whether you are able to showcase your potential as a leader. A 2018 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers in the U.S. found that employers are increasingly looking for accomplished candidates with the ability to problem- solve, work in teams, and have strong written communication skills.

When I was asked to provide these opening remarks, I went back to recall my own experiences throughout my career about how many important decisions or projects went ahead based solely on a technical analysis, and the answer is ‘almost none’. There are many different viewpoints taken into consideration and oftentimes there are influential opinions that are not accompanied by numbers. This is the reality of the world.

I hope your presence here means that you recognize the importance of the work which lies ahead for the nuclear sector: whether it is related to new reactor technology, operations, radioactive waste management or decommissioning. I don’t think it is a cliché to say that you are a generation of innovators. How could you not be? In this interconnected world, you have had to find your way and distinguish yourselves in ways that my generation could not have imagined. And, much like with climate change, you are being asked to address problems for which you are not responsible but have inherited.

One example I came across recently that gives me hope and that I think speaks somewhat to the situation you face is that of Boyan Slat. Boyan is a 24 year old Dutch inventor who is also the founder and CEO of a non-profit called The Ocean Cleanup. Boyan founded The Ocean Cleanup in 2013 with a mission to rid the oceans of plastic after becoming concerned with plastic pollution while scuba-diving in Greece in 2011. He designed a system of solar-powered, modular and flexible floating booms that float on the water and passively gather plastic waste. He has received significant financial support for this project, but has also faced considerable skepticism and criticism from many in the scientific community.  He says that he has never envisioned his system as the ultimate solution, but one possible part of the solution to a significant problem.

The system was taken out to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, midway between California and Hawaii, for its first real-world test last October. It didn’t work as hoped, to the delight of many of his critics. But Boyan and his team remain undeterred, and, just as importantly, his financial backers are standing by him. They have returned the system to shore for repairs and to apply lessons learned and hope to get an improved system back out as soon as possible.

So why have I shared this story with you? I think it illustrates well the can-do spirit I sense in this room and among young people generally. You are ready to take ownership of the world’s problems and seek innovative ways to address them. Boyan’s story might not be directly analogous to your career direction, but it does reinforce for me all the great abilities, intentions and spirit I see in so many young people today. It gives me hope that you will be integral to finding solutions to so many of our problems. One way you will be able to apply your talents and spirit to these problems is by helping us focus on the right conversations or discussions.

If I can offer you all three pieces of advice today, they would be…

First – be fearless.

Don’t be afraid to point out things that aren’t right or to ask questions when things aren’t clear. The ability for you to take risks in your career and put yourself out there can be daunting. Confidence plays a major role in this. Building confidence in the way you communicate will set you apart and showcase your leadership abilities.

Second – listen.

As a CNSC Commission member for the past six years, I’ve learned how crucial it is to really listen. This is not just hearing what is being said; this is active listening. That means asking questions, to demonstrate to others that their voice and opinion have been heard. It is through listening that you can truly understand your colleagues’ or clients’ perspectives and show consideration for their experiences.

This is imperative to earning other people’s trust.

Lastly - learn from your mistakes.

No matter what stage you’re at in your career, this applies to everyone. We all make mistakes. It’s how we choose to learn and adapt from these hurdles that really set you apart. Be open to criticism, and be willing to adapt and change your way of thinking. Always search for opportunities to innovate and improve. It is becoming clear that today’s employers have high expectations. As the head of an organization, I can attest to the fact that we are always searching for well-rounded employees and the “trail-blazers” of tomorrow.

I am proud of the CNSC’s status as a world-class employer and I am committed to continuing our efforts to attract and retain the most talented engineers, scientists, professionals, and students to help the CNSC fulfill its mandate. I encourage all of you to drop by our CNSC booth in the trade-show hall as we would love to hear from you and have you participate in our annual student recruitment drive. It’s important to come together at conferences like this to share, listen, learn and solve the issues the nuclear sector is facing today and into the future.

I would encourage all of you to use this opportunity to network with the intent of leaving a lasting impression. Showcase your strengths through your ability to critically discuss and communicate your opinions and views. Be courageous and seek out the opportunity to showcase the soft skills you will learn through today’s workshop, along with your technical knowledge and expertise. Every single one of you has the potential to play a hands-on role in shaping the future of our sector and re-defining nuclear’s place in the larger energy sector.

Thank you.

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