Apprentices, left to right; Jenna Warbrick (Morgan Sindall); Karlie Stockdale (Sellafield); Faye Llewellyn (Sellafield); Richard Smith (pathway lead quality degree apprentices); Rebecca Tomlinson (Sellafield); Philippa Hawley (Sellafield); Zoe Holliday (Sellafield)

Published: 16 Jan 2017

Richard Smith, quality manager EHS&Q at Sellafield, explains how the nuclear decommissioning site is paving the way for a new generation with a greater skillset.

The challenge at Sellafield, Europe’s most complex nuclear site, is unlike any other in the world. The mission is changing as the site transitions from a nuclear production site into a fully-fledged environmental restoration project.

Work to decommission Sellafield will span more than 100 years and to successfully complete it, the plant requires a pipeline of talented individuals with a higher level skillset across a range of disciplines. This includes quality professionals.

The nuclear sector’s growth and increasing demand for this resource in other industries has highlighted a need for more trained quality professionals to support UK industry.

As a quality manager with over 30 years’ experience in the profession, I recognised there was a need to reconsider the resource availability and look to grow our own quality professionals.

Due to its training regime and long-term approach to skills investment, Sellafield has been identified as an organisation that can help address this gap for the benefit of the whole UK industry. With approximately 500 apprentices on its books, across many disciplines, Sellafield is proactive in recognising it has a role in helping to address the gap in transferable skills such as quality and project delivery.

As a quality manager with over 30 years’ experience in the profession, I recognised there was a need to reconsider the resource availability and look to grow our own quality professionals.

A new trailblazer pathway for nuclear quality professionals was considered to be the way forward as Sellafield already has a scheme that has been approved. It was agreed the nuclear engineer and nuclear scientist route would be used and a new quality engineer degree pathway was established. This pathway has been designed to incorporate the CQI Practitioner and Professional course specifications.

The quality engineer pathway is a five-year Level 6 degree course.

The quality engineer pathway is a five-year Level 6 degree course. The apprentices will study for three years to attain a Foundation Degree in Engineering, followed by a further two years of study to attain a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering (BEng).

A programme of work-based activities, aligned with the academic studies, has been developed for the apprentices who will be employed four days a week within their parent companies to undertake business-related activities.

These activities are designed to give the apprentices practical hands-on learning, and support the CQI Competency Framework and the National Skills Academy for Nuclear Quality Competencies needed to develop their skills, knowledge and behaviours. The apprentices will also attend college one day a week to study the academic modules for their degree.

So far, seven apprentices have been recruited – five for Sellafield, one for Balfour Beatty and one for Morgan Sindall. These apprentices are the first in the UK to undertake this new apprenticeship pathway.

The new pathway has been supported by the CQI and its Nuclear Special Interest Group, some of whom were involved in the development of the new pathway.

The new pathway has been supported by the CQI and its Nuclear Special Interest Group, some of whom were involved in the development of the new pathway.

As nuclear new-build projects move forward, the need for skilled quality professionals will increase. The profession has now reached a point where a new generation of quality engineers can be developed. These apprentices will also become members of the CQI and its interest groups as part of their overall development.

This new generation of quality professionals will be working in the construction, operation, supply chain and decommissioning areas of Sellafield and will provide them with exciting opportunities for their futures.