An innovative apprenticeship programme aboard the decommissioned HMS Alliance submarine has been delivered by EDF Energy alongside the Babcock Engineering Academy in Portsmouth, incorporating safety principles adopted inside a conventional nuclear power plant.
EDF Energy appoints around 60 apprentices from the nuclear industry for the four-year scheme which begins each September. It is a mixture of theoretical and practical work, with apprentices spending part of the four-years at the HMS Sultan and HMS Collingwood training establishments, and part at the HMS Alliance submarine.
The scheme is residential and, for many of the apprentices, it is the first time they have been away from home. “I’ve learnt to be more independent”, says Leah Thomson from Heysham 1, “and everything that I’m learning is beneficial for me and the team when I return to the station.”
Ian Williams, EDF Energy’s Apprentice Manager explains, “It’s quite a development opportunity for them. We’re creating a pipeline for the future which can only benefit the nuclear industry.”
Apprentices develop important engineering skills, from practical, hands-on experience to project planning, which they can take back to their plants at the end of the apprenticeship programme. They are responsible for creating their own maintenance schedule, a process used in a real power station. Their job roles also mirror those of a nuclear plant: directors, health & safety advisers, team leaders etc.
Ian says: “We want technicians with the right behaviour. They need to have a questioning attitude – that comes with confidence.”
A significant element of the programme is being absorbed into EDF Energy’s philosophy of ‘nuclear safety is our overriding priority’. Apprentices are given daily safety briefs, with a key safety message being discussed each day.
The aim is to develop people who are work-ready; prepared for basic technology, techniques, culture and management processes. On completion of the programme, apprentices will be qualified technicians. EDF Energy’s Peter Prozesky, Continuous Improvement and Operational Support Director, explains: “Some of the older generation pick up bad habits and these youngsters come in and inject a different standard by teaching the old hands some of the behaviours we’re looking for.”
Brian Cowell, Director of Nuclear Operations at EDF Energy reflects: “It’s a fascinating opportunity to see engineering laid bare on the HMS Alliance. The engines, steering systems, batteries… you’ve been exposed to engineering in the raw.” He also commended the comradery and the bonds formed between the apprentices, a bond he believes will remain for a lifetime.
“It’s great to see because they’ve obviously internalised the needs of safety as a priority. It’s exactly what we want and what the industry needs.”