What I found when entering the UK Nuclear Industry
My route into the UK Nuclear Industry was not what you would call typical or text book. I played full-time rugby until is was 22. I then started out in my working career at The Royal Bank of Scotland retail bank working as an Area Sales Manager. I really enjoyed the job. I learned my trade as a salesman, the banking system and also about people’s personal finances — never judge a book by its cover is all I’ll say on this.
The Bank Manager
However, during 2007 things started to go sour, prior to the now infamous 2008 banking crisis, which put uncertainty in the bank and my role plus I’d personally lost a lot of money as part of my salary was paid in shares which had plummeted from almost £18 per share to just 11p per share.
At the time a friend of mine was working for Sellafield Ltd on a Civil, Structural & Architecture (CS&A) graduate scheme so I passed him my CV and asked him to pass it to his boss. This was fortunate timing for me as the current Commercial Manager who was more of a Project Controls Manager that we would call it now was due to retire and a successor was needed. Due to my A Level in maths, degree heavily surrounding project management and my experience of working with numbers in the bank I was deemed to fit the bill.
The nuclear newbie
The first thing of note that hit me when I entered the UK Nuclear Industry was the pay. I had risen to quite a senior level as an APM then Bank Manager at the bank but was still given a £10k pay rise with the “apologies that this is all we can offer you at the moment”.
The second thing of note was the change of pace. Especially coming from a banking/sales environment where I was constantly on the phone or in face-to-face meetings from 7AM until 7PM. Things in nuclear take time and rightly so in most instances as the quality and integrity of the work is paramount particularly when considering the repercussions of a mistake. However, I found it frustrating that this ‘decision by committee’ approach and ‘what if’ mentality had manifested itself in all business decisions regardless of their nuclear or non-nuclear implications.
A project manager is born
As my story continues when I left the bank it was on the basis that I would be shadowing the then PCM for a couple of years before his retirement with the aim of taking over from him when this happened. However, 6-months into my time he had decided that he wasn’t going to retire within 2 years but wanted to extend this by another 5 years (this should form part of a separate post but I’ll leave his story there). That being said it meant that my role at Sellafield was at risk as the requirement was in question given the timescales (maybe another post on succession planning in the nuclear industry). Anyway within that first six-months I had quickly identified that the Project Management function was suited to me both from a skills, competencies and experience basis.
I had come to this conclusion due to the fact That my honours degree in Business Information Systems was based around projects and project management, I tend to have the leadership qualities required and I was the Captain for a large number of the rugby teams that I have been a part of. None of these are nuclear or even project management specific you could say.
The next step that I took was pretty much the defining one. I undertook the APM Level D training course and exam and had the pleasure of working with some fantastic people (many have risen to quite senior levels at Sellafield Ltd). It was during this two weeks intense course followed by a wrap-up cram session and exam at the end which was fantastically ran by 2020 Training I must say; I pretty much cemented in my mind that project management was for me. (Cue another follow-up post specifically around project management, my philosophy, approach and thoughts?).
First projects delivered and experience gained
Following receiving the qualification I continued to work with Sellafield for a number of years as a Project Engineer (now known as Sub-Project Manager) and was fortunate enough to be involved in the delivery of the manufacture and testing and ultimate delivery of a large storage package and associated gamma gate as well as being involved in CS&A works on the most hazardous building on site at the time. This was all undertaken in parallel to authoring and gaining approval of a business case for one of the largest undertakings on Sellafield Site. This final one gave me massive insights into the inner workings of the company, access to very senior people and a knowledge of the funding and sanctioning process which has helped me immensely as I have moved into the supply chain.
This move came about after completing a 12 months retrievals strategy study which entailed the consideration of all retrievals technologies used in the worldwide nuclear decommissioning sector meeting some fantastically brilliant people along the way. Following the study I had wrongly assumed that I would be surplus to requirements and agreed to take a position with Nuvia on the largest decommissioning plant on Sellafield site. It turned out that something was actually lined up for me at Sellafield but we parted on good terms and I continued on the next stage of my career.
Feet first straight in at the deep-end
During my numerous years at Nuvia I had the fortune of being responsible as Area Project Manager for the delivery of numerous areas of the plant being Ventilation, CS&A, Space Management and Process. This involved the working with a team of project controls and support staff, four Engineering Managers and a total of 100+ strong team. The work that I undertook at Nuvia was a very steep learning curve due to the people, the stakeholders and the work itself. The lessons that I gained from my time at here and the overall approach and methodology to project management are the basis upon which many of my day-to-day decisions are made.
As good as things were at Nuvia the project was halted abruptly due to the next phase of the works being awarded elsewhere and I fortunately found myself at Ansaldo Nuclear Ltd (NESL at the time) providing project management expertise to their tendering team.
Back to being a salesman
It is at Ansaldo Nuclear that you will find me today. During my time in recent years I have tendered on work spanning almost every site in the UK covering the defence sector, decommissioning arena and the nuclear new builds. Now due to the successes that I have seen within tendering I am now spending my time working as Project Manager for a portfolio of 4 projects totalling £120m+. My time in tendering has opened my eyes to how much effort (and money) it takes for businesses to win work in the nuclear industry and the risks they have to take when tendering and then during delivery — not all ITTs take this into consideration in my opinion. I have also gained insights into how the tendering process differs between the major players, the art of proposal writing, the important role that business development has to play in the success of a nuclear business and how archaic the industry is when it comes to developing a marketing, media and brand awareness strategy.
Ansaldo Nuclear are a fantastic company with great ambitions and a unique selling point in that they are manufacturing engineering company that have the capability of being a tier-two integrator (which they will be) with the ability to reach-back to their parent company Ansaldo Energia in Italy. That said with all enterprises the devil is in the detail and as I embark upon the successful delivery of all of my projects there are the inevitable twists and turns that you find on all tasks in life and I am throughly enjoying the ride for the foreseeable on longer term projects.
All of the above has made me very grateful for where I am today. I’m not setting the world on fire but I get to work in an industry surrounded by geniuses (and yes it is true that in the main they have no common sense) with the upmost integrity, on the coolest jobs, as part of the most important projects in the Country right now. During a week I can be in discussions that involves protecting the country, providing security of energy to the country and reducing environmental risk to the country all whilst working on chemistry projects, developing prototypes of manipulator arms, producing 100+ tonne 10m tall shield doors, strategically handling radioactive materials in a safe manner, providing safe means of nuclear transportation and many many cool sci-fi type tasks.
I’m not sure where I heard this (a google search provides multiple sources) but I remember hearing the phrase that “the right thing is always the right thing to do” and when I look at the UK Nuclear Industry which I now love I cannot sit idly by as more and more fantastic people continue to retire, while less people are being attracted to the industry, the barriers to entry in the industry remain and all this when the resource demand is set to sky rocket (okay this has been a slower uptake than expected but I first encountered this pace as nuclear newbie so why am I surprised?).
This is something that I voiced in numerous situations both inside and outside of work and the question always poised to me was “…so, how do I get into nuclear…?” followed by “…I’ve searched the internet and don’t seem to be able to find anything out.” to which my answer was always “…never (or “BS” if I was with friends) there is loads of information out there on how you can get into nuclear!” followed by the final comment and end of conversation “…well I couldn’t find anything.”
This led me to being involved in the founding of the website getintonuclear.com which has been running properly since the January this year. The aim of the site was always, and remains, to be a ‘hub’ that provides a funnel to the help and provide guidance on how to get into nuclear that people inside of the industry know is out there but others outside of the industry are not aware of or don’t quite seem to be able to find. The site has got quite a lot of good content on there and remains a work in progress (which I now think is a permanent state as there is always improvements that can be made). Now I would be lying if I said that I wouldn’t ultimately be in a position to turn a profit from the site (see below) but the site is and remains to be aimed with the mantra of “the right thing is always the right thing to do”. Check the site out and provide any feedback and comments and if you could provide any content to go on there to help people that would be fantastic.
As part of my work with getintonuclear.com I have spent a lot of time speaking to a lot of people and have tried to find out what are the pains that people in, around and looking to get into nuclear are feeling at the moment in time. The aim of which is to help people and businesses.
So what have I found to be the requests and complaints of the market segment that I have interacted with?
- I don’t want to work in nuclear it’s [insert perception of the nuclear industry].
- Isn’t nuclear only for people in white lab coats?
- I don’t want to work miles away from home.
- Here’s my CV can you review it to assess my chances of finding work in nuclear?
- What courses do I need to take?
- What are the security vetting requirements?
- Who recruits in the UK Nuclear Industry?
- Where do I find job vacancies in the nuclear industry?
- Do you know who won [insert project name] project on [insert site name] site?
- I’m a [insert current job role] can I get work in nuclear?
- I’ve never even considering working in nuclear before?
- I didn’t know that [insert company name] existed what is it that they do?
- What training courses are their available to me in the nuclear industry?
- Who are the best recruitment companies and recruitment consultants?
- What networking events are their local to me that I could attend?
- …the list goes on.
It is the job of the website — if it is to genuinely be the hub for all things nuclear that it is aiming to be — to answer the 90% of the questions, and associated questions above. The remaining 10% however in my opinion lies a little deeper. They all are a result of the PR of the nuclear industry as a whole. Nuclear myths, perceptions, opinions whether valid or not have and continue to not be managed by the industry (individuals, enterprises, companies and government). Additionally brand awareness, company profiles, job opportunities, works being undertaken (obviously within security guidelines) are not available in the mediums that reach and impact the most amount of people.
This realisation for myself has been my constant education and paradigm shifting (to quote the late Stephen Covey) over the first six-months of this year from Sam Jones (tunafishmedia.co.uk) who has played massive parts in opening up the world of social media and the fact that it is much more than a place to put your CV (LinkedIn), post your holiday snaps (Instagram), share photos of your family (Facebook) and watch funny videos (YouTube). The aforementioned mediums plus a host of other are where not only the next generation of nuclear workers spend there time but where the industries influencers, CEO’s, leading thinkers, decision makers and public at large spend their time. If the industry is to improve public perception, showcase the work that is being done, attract new workers and share information on individual, enterprises and companies there needs to be a stepped change in the uptake and implementation of the social media strategy at all levels of the industry. If there nuclear industry does not attend to this shortfall it risks not remaining relevant in the grand scheme of things.
Opportunity to make a difference
My change in perspective has made me believe that there is a gaping hole in the UK Nuclear Industry. This is something that I’m getting quite passionate and little obsessive about. Spending my evenings and weekends reading, watching, listening all out about social media, its uses, impacts and successful applications in numerous other industries. It is now estimated that UK companies spend over £10b on social media advertising due to the fact that over half the country — and 75% of 18–24 year olds — watch online videos on their smartphone every day. With a UK population of 66m (5.8m 18–24) this is a whole lot of people with their attention at the little screen on their smart phone.
There are numerous myths, misnomers, wrong perceptions, untruths surrounding the UK Nuclear Industry and if the industry is serious about the successfully delivering the nuclear renaissance of our time this change in the world and how people communicate cannot be ignored. The quicker the industry; the individuals, the enterprises, the businesses and the top-tiers adjust and embrace this the quicker the industry has a fighting chance of success.
Now as I am a project manager; at my core I am an orchestrator and not necessarily the best when it come to the execution. That said my obsession around this subject has led me to be able to provide from a unique position in knowing the industry from a number of angles, knowing what social media can do and being able to provide a winning social media strategy for any person or business in and around the UK nuclear industry.
The way I can do this is by providing the upfront, higher level strategy which can then be used to be implemented by the real game-changers of our time; the social media gurus who have formed together to create media agencies who are able to manage and execute your social media strategy.
If anyone is interested at finding out more you or your business can embrace and leverage the social media revolution (which has already happened by the way we are playing catch-up in the nuclear industry) please get in-touch on any of the mediums mentioned above.