Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to lead an industry meeting at Number 10 Downing Street to discuss 'Degree Apprenticeships' - a scheme that's very much in line with the Sellafield's modus operandi of trying to raise the standard of apprenticeships by giving young people the chance to get both the practical and academic learnings they need to thrive in the nuclear industry.
The scheme has a great deal of synergy with our existing Technical Specialist Trainee Scheme (TST) that we've developed alongside Gen2 and the University of Cumbria that I've been lucky enough to head up since its inception eight years ago. TST is a modular course that covers a vast range of subjects which seems to help keep young people engaged.
The immediate challenge for the nuclear industry is clear for all of us within it to see. We're a growing industry and desperately need to replenish the talent to avoid an ever increasing skills gap. It seems obvious to me that if we want the best and most competent young people to join the industry we need to be as involved and engaged as we possibly can with the education system. The more we can embed ourselves into the system, the more it will be able to deliver young people who are ready to lead the way for future generations.
As those who've read my previous blogs will be aware, one of the main areas that I think continually needs focus is how best to attract more young women into the nuclear industry. There remains a fundamental problem with apprentices, particularly in engineering, that it's all greasy overalls and spanners. The reality, however, couldn't be further from the truth.
These apprenticeships and schemes we're talking about are truly professional and just as academic as they are practical so it's hugely important we keeping shouting loudly about that because we need to change attitudes towards them in general, not least within the nuclear industry.
Programmes like that discussed at Number 10 and the TST are definitely helping to dispel that myth and, in fact, in the time we've been running the TST programme we have had an average annual female intake of 49% - which is pretty impressive when you look across the industry as a whole.
I think one of the key factors in attracting the brightest young women is the flexibility that we're able to offer. The structure of the TST scheme allows people to pick their pathway through the course as the learning is contextualised to the role they become most suited to So that trainees are able to bespoke the course to fit their own learning styles.
It's also essential that across the industry we continue to bang the drum that doing an apprenticeship is not a cop-out, but simply a different possible route to university. Sadly there still seems to be a bit of a snobbery when it comes to apprenticeships but the reality is that at the levels we are talking they offer very similar academic qualifications but just in a different style that suits some people better, while having the practical dimension that most degrees don't. It also opens the door for people who feel that university is simply too expensive and don't want to put an extra financial burden on their families. The model of working with local enterprises and universities also allows us to ensure that talent is retained in the local area. Since the TST programme began, the retention rate is 97% meaning that we're helping to keep the next generation of bright young things in West Cumbria. That will obviously have great long term economic benefits for the area.
All in all it was a great honour to be invited to Number 10 to discuss such important issues. As an industry we must do all we can to attract the best young minds in the country if we want British Nuclear to remain pre-eminent across the world.
Left - Ken McEwan, Head of Training for Sellafield Ltd, centre me, right - Roland Fletcher, National Skill Academy for Nuclear (NSAN)