group picture from Sellafield placement

Jamie Pilgrim, Ryan Cooper and Alex Fells

Why did you want to undertake a year in industry?

Ryan: Undertaking a year in industry is a fantastic way to develop skills you don't learn at university. In today's job market, this is invaluable. From working with different engineering disciplines to developing "soft skills", a placement year really helps you become a more well-rounded graduate. Coming out of university with a year's experience really helps you stand out from the crowd because it means companies are taking less of a risk in hiring you!

What company are you working for?

Jamie: We work for a company called Sellafield Ltd. It is the company that delivers decommissioning, reprocessing and nuclear waste management activities on the Sellafield site, on behalf of the NDA. The company had previously been focused on reprocessing nuclear fuel for overseas customers and the UK reactor (AGR and Magnox) fleets. However, the main focus of Sellafield Ltd now is accelerated risk and hazard reduction of the legacy facilities and their eventual decommissioning.

What is your role within the company?

Ryan: My role is Process Design Engineer on the Magnox Swarf Storage Silo (MSSS). I’ve primarily been working on asset care and building modifications, as well as offering design support to onsite personnel. This has allowed me to apply the theoretical knowledge I have gained at Leeds in real-world scenarios. I've also had the opportunity to work as a STEM ambassador. This allowed me to participate in programmes such as the "Big Bang Fair" and "Future Scholars" to help promote STEM to school children.

Jamie: I’m a Process Design Engineer on the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP). Throughout the year, I have been working mainly on asset care tasks and providing plant design support for THORP. I work extensively with site-based engineers and managers to deliver solutions that enable THORP to achieve throughput targets for the financial year. Like Ryan, I have also been involved with STEM programmes throughout the year.

Alex: As Process Design Engineer within Overall Effluent Strategy (OES), the majority of my work has been to provide technical and strategic support to a number of areas within the business. To do this, I have to make use of a number of models which detail a range of parameters. This has given me the opportunity to work across many areas of the business and with many different people. My work has been presented to a number of organisations, including the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the Environment Agency, OSPAR, and the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

What's an insight into a typical day?

Jamie: The first thing we do when we get in the office is make ourselves a cup of coffee! The day usually comprises of meeting with other engineers, responding to emails, performing calculations and writing reports to support the particular job we're working on. We typically have many jobs on the go at once, so managing our time appropriately is key to staying on top of it all.

We're all based at the design office, near Manchester. Occasionally we go up to the Sellafield site to perform walk downs and discuss work with system engineers. Getting a chance to actually look at the piece of equipment being worked on is invaluable, as is talking to the engineers and technicians who will be operating it.

What are you enjoying the most?

Ryan: This year, I have particularly enjoyed taking ownership of tasks providing support to plant. This has allowed me to see tasks from conceptual design right through to plant implementation. I have also enjoyed working in large multi-disciplinary teams as this has allowed me to gain a better understanding of how large-scale engineering projects are delivered.

Jamie: I’ve really enjoyed the plant support work. It usually has a really quick turnaround – from there being a problem on plant to putting a solution in place – so it's quite exciting. It's also been good getting to work with site-based engineers and members of supply chain companies to deliver robust and fit-for-purpose engineering solutions.

Alex: I have really enjoyed the amount of responsibility I have been given while working with strategy, as I have undertaken a number of important work packages. I've also been able to work on a range of projects all over the company, which has given me a great overview of the work that is done onsite. The amount of learning you are able to do while working at Sellafield is huge due to the huge amount of seminars, lunch-and-learns and conferences you are able to go on.

Do you have any tips and advice to current students thinking of undertaking a year in industry?

Ryan: Make sure you do your research! It's important to have a good idea of what you'll be doing while on placement. This helps ensure you're going to be doing relevant work that will count towards membership of your chosen professional institution. It's also a good idea to pick a company who are used to taking on placement students and have a good network of support and training available.

Jamie: Don't be hesitant or afraid to volunteer for things. Put yourself out there and get out of your comfort zone – it will open doors for you!

Alex: Be proactive. If you think you might be interested in something and would like to find out more, make it happen. A year in industry is a fantastic way to investigate what you might like to do in the future.