How my apprenticeship went nuclear
When your job involves working with nuclear reactors, there's no room for error. Adam Sharp, 22, works at Sellafield designing the mechanical equipment that helps the team safely decommission aged reactors.
His job comes as part of a four-year apprenticeship, with a foundation degree and level 3 diploma at the end of it. Here, he explains why doing an apprenticeship was 'a no-brainer'.
<img width="30%" align="right" src="https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/w/images/3/3d/AdShar.jpg" alt="Apprentice Adam Sharp" style="margin-right: 0px; margin-left: 20px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px;">
1. What company are you working for? What does the company do?
I work for Sellafield Ltd in West Cumbria. Sellafield is the country’s oldest nuclear facility and the UK’s nuclear fuel reprocessing site employing over 10,000 people. Historically it has produced plutonium for nuclear weapons, been home to the world’s first commercial nuclear power plant and a number of prototype nuclear reactors. Sellafield’s 60 year-plus history has left it with a number of challenging decommissioning projects, which is my field of work.
2. What’s your role within the company?
I'm a Mechanical Design Engineer Apprentice, which is what it says on the tin - I design mechanical equipment. This entails anything from complex machinery, such as hydraulic hoists, to simple items like radiation shield plates, which are just pieces of plate metal. I also produce drawings on Computer Aided Design (CAD), strength calculations, risk assessments and user instructions etc.
The part of the work I enjoy the most is being able to turn ideas and solutions to problems into real things. Seeing your idea turned into a piece of equipment and knowing that you designed it gives you such satisfaction. Plus you know the equipment is useful in helping to clean up the UK’s nuclear legacy. Within my industry, there's no room for error and the challenges are so complex, but that’s another part which I enjoy.
3. How do you expect your career to develop at this company?
My apprenticeship at Sellafield has given me all the tools I need to succeed and I can see my career here going well. I couldn’t ask for better training to be able to complete work independently and develop further as my career progresses. They've given me the tools to succeed at my job, but also life skills which I know will be useful when I want to progress.
4. How many years will your apprenticeship take?
My apprenticeship is 4 years long and I will obtain an Advanced Apprenticeship in Design and Draughting, a Foundation Degree in Mechanical Plant Engineering and a Level 3 Diploma in Engineering Construction Design and Draughting.
The course gets harder as you go on with the majority of the diploma being in the final year of the apprenticeship and the foundation degree taking place over the last 3 years out of the 4.
The more experience you have, the more you are challenged in the workplace and the same can be said for the college modules. You can soon see how far you’ve come if you look back; how much you can learn in such a short space of time is surprising!
5. Tell us the most interesting thing that’s happened during your apprenticeship
This one’s difficult as there’s so much to choose from!
The best part of my apprenticeship was probably winning the Brathay Apprentice Challenge. Nine of us were part of a team representing Sellafield, of which I was the Team Leader. We competed against other companies in an attempt to be named the Country’s Best Apprentice Team, and it was almost like a mini Duke of Edinburgh challenge. We promoted apprenticeships to schools, employers, MP’s and the public as well as raising 1.25 tonnes of food and £8000 for our local food bank charity.
Winning the challenge was the best part of my apprenticeship; although it was 6 months long and so took up a considerable amount of time, what I achieved felt like the best part of my apprenticeship. Plus, we got invited to the Houses of Parliament and awards dinners afterwards as a result!
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6. How has your apprenticeship developed you as a person?
At 18, I moved over 150 miles away from my home in Doncaster to West Cumbria - completely alone - so my confidence rocketed because of this.
I learnt to cook, clean and manage household bills, all while learning my new trade as an apprentice and studying for a foundation degree. It was tough and I felt a lot of pressure, but powered through and I’m all the better for it.
I’ve found myself outside my comfort zone so many times that not much really phases me anymore - you just have to look at a situation and say “OK, get on with it”. This has brought me so many rewards as a result, both personally and on a professional level.
7. What's your career ambition, and how do you think your apprenticeship will help you achieve it?
My dream is to one day become Sellafield’s Chief Mechanical Engineer, and my apprenticeship has definitely given me all the tools to reach this goal.
It's set me up well academically and given me the foundations to build a career, plus it's also developed my personal skills and confidence to keep me driving towards and believing I can achieve my goal.
8. Who has been the most influential person on your career and training during your apprenticeship?
My colleague Bernard Gill; he's mentored me since day one and has given me the skills and knowledge to build my engineering career on. He’s always helped me and never turned me away - although neither has anyone else for that matter!
To me, Bernard’s the sort of engineer I hope to be one day. His expertise, experience and precision is something which has evidently flowed through into my work and certainly influenced the way I go about engineering challenges. The passing down of knowledge from generation to generation, learning skills and tricks of the trade which would otherwise have been lost are a really positive aspect to apprenticeships too.
9. How much advice and support about apprenticeships did you get when you were at school/college?
There wasn’t any advice or education about apprenticeships when I was at school. If you weren’t going to university, my school and college didn’t seem interested, which is a shame. The apprenticeship is always made out to be ‘lesser’ than a university route, but after the experience I’ve had, I can tell you it’s really not the case.
10. What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing an apprenticeship?
Grab it with both hands! What else can give you the opportunity to gain qualifications, get experience, pay you and have a high chance of having a job offer at the end? You get so many opportunities during an apprenticeship to develop both academically and as a person.
I think back to when I was caught between university and my apprenticeship. I asked myself the questions, do I want to go and gain a degree and be in over £30,000 of debt as a result? Or do I want to go and get some experience, a salary, a foundation degree and possibly have a job at the end of it? It was a no-brainer really.