LOS ALAMOS, N.M. – In an effort to create a homegrown and well-paid workforce that represents greater diversity, Newport News Nuclear BWXT Los Alamos (N3B) and the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos (UNM-LA) issued certificates today to their first class of Waste Processing Operator Boot Camp students.

Waste operators assist in critical environmental cleanup as they handle, package, treat and document radioactive waste from pre-1999 operations at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

Nine students completed the 12-week boot camp program and will receive official academic certificates at the UNM-LA graduation in May.

“Once I got the call that I was accepted into the boot camp, I was terrified,” said Jessica Bustos of Santa Fe, a student in the program. “I told my husband that this job isn’t something I should be doing. I was nervous about whether I was physically and mentally able to do it.”

“It was intimidating realizing I’m the only woman,” Bustos added. “But when I went into the field, I realized I could do this. It isn’t just a job for men.”

When N3B and UNM-LA launched their workforce development programs in August 2019, they committed to recruiting students from diverse backgrounds.

“We look at diversity from the aspect of race, ethnicity, gender and background — and what students can bring to the cohort to make it most successful,” said Dorian Newtown, N3B’s director of Technical Services, who heads the program.

Students also receive paid on-the-job training at Technical Area 54, where N3B is characterizing and remediating LANL’s transuranic and low-level waste for shipment and permanent disposal offsite. Such training means no prior experience in the nuclear industry is necessary.

For Bustos, who tried for years to find work in Los Alamos but felt hindered by her lack of experience, that training was crucial.

“The combination of intensive college level courses combined with on-the-job experience creates an environment that quickly provides the desired knowledge and skills,” said UNM-LA President Cindy Rooney. “In a time of immediate workforce needs for employers, fast-track certificate programs provide a pathway for students to enter the workforce in an expedited manner,”

“Even though I’m not the only female who’s ever done this work, it’s me doing something out of my element and I’m really proud of myself,” Bustos said. “They don’t let you do anything you’re not comfortable doing. And that means a lot to me.”

N3B’s workforce development initiative includes a separate 12-week boot camp program in conjunction with UNM-LA that trains radiological control technicians. Through a partnership between N3B and Northern New Mexico College, a two-year Nuclear Operators Apprenticeship Program is also offered.

Boot camp students become full-time N3B employees once they begin coursework. They are compensated $19 per hour and receive competitive benefits and retirement packages. Students also earn 10 college credits from UNM-LA and tuition is paid for by N3B.

The application window for the next round of Waste Processing Operator Boot Camp students will likely open in late March or early April. The posting will be on the N3B website under careers, followed by N3B jobs. The website lists several other job openings related to N3B’s environmental remediation program, legacy waste management and support services.