Investing in education and skills at Sellafield


By Michelle Lambon-Wilks, Head of Education & Skills Sellafield Ltd

It’s an exciting time to be asked to take up the reins of Education and Skills at Sellafield Ltd.  As our business changes from a focus on reprocessing spent nuclear fuel to remediation and decommissioning our legacy facilities, we continue to recruit large numbers of apprentices and graduates on an annual basis. The reskilling of existing employees is also coming to the fore.

We have a responsibility to ensure that the site is able to continue its 100-year clean-up work safely and securely, using innovative techniques employed by our skilled workforce and supply chain partners.

To carry out this nationally important work requires carefully managed, world first engineering projects, and most importantly, the development of our people, as well as the education of future workers, which is crucial to our success.

Ensuring we have a pipeline of the right skills is an area we identified a number of years ago. To develop that area, we have invested heavily in projects that benefit not just the industry but also support our communities and local economic priorities.

For example, in West Cumbria we have created a Project Academy, and helped to facilitate a University Technical College (UTC) and the National College for Nuclear Northern Hub. We also played a crucial role in the development of two new schools in Whitehaven, while in Warrington we have focused on engineering including support to the Warrington UTC. The list goes on.

Meeting the challenge

Sellafield in West Cumbria is the UK’s largest and most complex nuclear site, undertaking the unique and nationally important work of cleaning up the country’s highest nuclear risks and hazards while safeguarding spent nuclear fuel, materials, and waste.

With an annual £2.3 billion budget, Sellafield Ltd is the operating company with the responsibility for decommissioning the site, safely and securely, with the help of an 11,000 strong workforce and with the support of more than 40,000 people across a diverse and unique supply chain.

Achieving our purpose of creating a clean and safe environment for future generations will rely on us having a fully engaged workforce that includes the right people, in the right roles, at the right time.

As such we operate as a major employer in our communities.  This year, we have continued our commitment to training the next generation of nuclear experts through our intensive apprenticeships, graduate, and lifelong learning programmes.

Our investment in skills and providing meaningful employment means that we are actively engaged at all levels of education and training – currently we have over 1100 learners on our various schemes.

This breaks down into over 612 vocational apprentices, 330 graduates, 112 degree apprentices as well as a number of lifelong learning and industrial placement students.

The company is part of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) group, which is responsible for decommissioning the UK’s 17 earliest nuclear sites safely, securely, and sustainably.

The NDA has a proven track record in investing in career development, from apprentices and graduates, to training the existing workforce.

Investing in the community

Thousands of careers have started within the group over several decades and each year they invest over £45 million in apprentice and graduate development alongside investment in the wider skills infrastructure, both in site communities and the broader education sector. Currently, the NDA group has over 1,000 people following its early careers programme.

However, the work doesn’t stop there. My passion and focus over the next year will be centred on educational outreach. At Sellafield Ltd we are keen to work with our local stakeholders on reaching out and into deprived areas. And to help those that haven’t had the opportunity to reach their full potential and achieve their ambitions. 

We have seen first-hand the impact of place-based education initiatives and we want to be visible and accessible to our local communities.  I myself want to ensure parity for learners – every learner is important to us whether on work placement, industrial placement, on one of our educational programmes or as an existing employee on a development programme. 

I want to create a clearly understood talent pipeline from primary school through to retirement. And make the various opportunities to access our employment opportunities both visible and easier to understand for schools, parents, and learners alike.

If we’re serious about driving up productivity in the North of England, we need a highly skilled workforce, equipped with the tools to build the industries of the future. Investing in future generations remains the key to unlocking growth and levelling up.

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