Workers and businesses who depend on Dounreay are set to benefit from a £2.2 million programme to help them adjust to the closure of the site.
An estimated 2000 jobs will disappear over the next 15 years or so as the clean-up and demolition of the former nuclear research site nears completion.
Caithness Chamber of Commerce is leading an initiative to harness the skills and expertise at the site.
“Make the Right Connections” aimes to help employees of affected businesses find new opportunities as spending on the site closure declines.
The chamber will carry out an audit of current skills and business capabilities and match these with opportunities in new industry through retraining, business growth and marketing.
Some 50 companies are involved directly in the clean-up, which accounts for more than 10 per cent of the current GDP of the North Highlands, and many more benefit indirectly from consumer spending.
The largest single workforce is approximately 900 employed by Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd, the main clean-up contractor to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. The two organisations worked together to provide funding for the project. Other sources include Skills Development Scotland and the European Structural Fund. Skills Minister Angela Constance announced £1.1m of ESF funding.
“Socio-economic planning and co-operation is an essential part of our site closure programme,” said Michael Dunnett, head of HR at DSRL.
“This new initiative promises to make a significant contribution to the economic wellbeing of the north Highlands when Dounreay has gone.
“It builds on the work we’ve already started with our own workforce to help them transition. It reaches out to the supply chain as well as our own staff and will help them to identify routes out of decommissioning and into new business and job opportunities in emerging sectors such as marine energy and offshore decommissioning.
"For our own staff, the programme will look to give them national recognition of their skills and competencies, which will assist individuals to move into these future opportunities.
“I’m delighted the business sector in the local community is taking the lead in the area’s regeneration and that we can play a part in supporting them to achieve our common goal of a sustainable economy when Dounreay is gone.”
The chamber expects to recruit two people to deliver the programme over the next three years, with a target to help to 400 people each year.
DSRL has reduced the size of its workforce by approximately 300 in the last five years and the company expects to shrink every year through to 2025 as more of the site is cleaned up and demolished.