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How Sellafield invests in people

The chief executive of the UK's largest nuclear decommissioning site introduces case studies on skills, training and apprenticeships.

By Euan Hutton

It sounds clichéd, but our people are our assets. Our workforce at Sellafield Ltd cover the breadth of educational attainment, skills and abilities, age ranges and professions. There are not many workplaces that have their own nuclear operators and maintainers, engineers, emergency services and legal experts, to name just a few of the essential teams that enable us to deliver our nationally important mission: creating a clean and safe environment for future generations.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), of which Sellafield Ltd is a subsidiary, is tasked with decommissioning the UK’s earliest nuclear sites safely, securely, and sustainably. The success of the NDA group’s nuclear clean-up mission is delivered by over 17,000 people working in and on the seventeen sites across the UK, covering over 900 different roles. It’s a mission that is ever expanding, so investing in skills has never been more important; both in supporting the growth of our people and for advancing the UK nuclear industry.

Across our business, and indeed across the NDA group, we offer the opportunity to work on challenging, complex, and often first-of-a-kind projects, which require problem-solving skills, the ability to think differently, and use tried and tested methods or equipment in different situations.

We believe that for us, the best is yet to come. With over 100 years of work left on our plan, there is a real opportunity to make a difference by solving challenges and where learning can be applied across the nuclear sector and beyond.

We are not alone, however, in recognising that the labour market has changed. Expectations of the workplace are different to how they were before the Covid pandemic, and there are national shortages of workers in a number of skilled areas, not least across the nuclear sector, which has an increasing workforce demand both in defence and, of course, in nuclear new-build.

Many local industries are trying to hire their workforce from the same pool, making it a competitive market. We also see increased competition from outside the area due to advances in technology and the increased use of agile and remote working. This means that it is more important than ever for us to grow our own talent. For many years now, we have invested heavily in bringing the next generation of talent into our organisation. We have seen our trainee numbers increase year on year, and this year has been our most ambitious yet. We run 27 different apprentice programmes, have over 900 apprentices and graduates currently in training, and plan to recruit another 340 apprentices later this year.

We truly value the contribution that our trainees make, both during their training and when they become full time employees. In turn we offer fulfilling and meaningful careers with a level of job security not offered elsewhere, as shown in the case studies below.

Investing in our early careers talent also has far-reaching benefits in the communities where we have a physical presence. We work with local providers to ensure a high level of education and training, and we contribute to other initiatives such as encouraging our people to support educational outreach programmes. Who better to inspire the next generation than the current group of future nuclear talent?

Case studies

Holly Maxwell – from apprentice to chartered engineer

Photo by Sellafield Ltd

My career journey started when I left school at 16 to undertake a craft apprenticeship programme with Sellafield Ltd. This included a year in the training centre before transferring to Sellafield, where I completed the rest of my apprenticeship while working as a mechanical craftsperson in one of the facilities on site.

I continued my studies completing a higher national certificate and higher national diploma in plant engineering while undertaking several secondments into other teams. After that, I joined the plant engineer trainee scheme where I was sponsored to complete my BEng (Hons) in mechanical engineering. During that time I realised that I wanted to pursue the engineering route and undertook a secondment into the system engineering team.

I then took on responsibility for plant critical systems and applied to complete an MSc in mechanical engineering with project management to enhance my skills and knowledge. An opportunity then arose to stand in as the lead engineer for my area, which I accepted. Within the last year I have finished my Master’s and become a chartered engineer; completed a peer review trip with the World Association of Nuclear Operators, undertaking an inspection of the engineering practices on a nuclear power plant in Spain; and broadened my knowledge by moving into a different facility on the site as a lead reliability engineer.

I love the variety of the work, contributing to a nationally important mission with a great team of people. I’m extremely grateful for the training provided by the company and support we are given to undertake extra curricular activities. As an example, I’m a founding member of the Sellafield women in engineering society and I facilitated Sellafield becoming a partner of the women’s engineering society to show our commitment to improving gender balance.

Megan Hesketh – recruiting future talent

Photo by Sellafield Ltd

After leaving school in West Cumbria, I completed my Level 3 Business Administration Apprenticeship with Sellafield, working in a range of departments such as accounts, central robotics, AI, and education and skills. When my apprenticeship finished last year, I was retained in education and skills as a graduate coordinator. I have now been in the role for eight months and I love it. I’ve been given great opportunities such as attending conferences and awards, and there’s lots of room for development and progression.

The design and delivery of the graduate programme contributes to Sellafield Ltd’s mission as we are assisting and guiding the development of the future workforce. I am motivated by my work, knowing I make a difference within our community. It is important that we attract new skills and ideas and graduates are a fantastic way to do this. I also enjoy knowing that we are able to provide a career path to new starters.

I believe we should take every opportunity in our careers and never get too comfortable. The best development is always outside of your comfort zone.

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