An innovative apprenticeship programme delivered by EDF Energy and Babcock has already had a real impact in the workplace. The scheme has been named apprenticeship of the year by a panel of judges in the 2014 NEI Nuclear Training Awards.
EDF Energy has a well-developed and renowned engineering apprentice scheme based at the Babcock Engineering Academy, within HMS Sultan, near Portsmouth.
The company takes on around 60 apprentices each year and the scheme runs for four years. Across the company there are currently around 240 apprentices.
At one of eight power stations the apprentice coordinators start the recruitment process every autumn, and receive many hundreds of applications for the positions.
After a round of assessments, the candidates are interviewed locally and then appointed. During the summer the successful recruits’ families are invited to an open day to find out more about the training scheme, which for the first two years is residential based at HMS Sultan and HMS Collingwood.
In the run up to the start of the course all of the new apprentices spend a week on an induction/team-building course at Ullswater in the Lake District, tackling challenges and creating friendships.
This is a key week in the life of EDF Energy’s apprentices as it allows them to build friendships and develop as a group.
The training scheme starts in September each year and the 60 or so apprentices are welcomed to HMS Sultan by the Academy team, including Ian Williams, EDF Energy’s apprentice manager.
For many of the apprentices it will be the first time they have been away from home. EDF Energy and Babcock International take their ‘duty of care’ to the apprentices very seriously and provide whatever support is necessary to ensure that every student is safe, happy and has the platform to succeed.
The apprentices live in excellent single-room accommodation at nearby HMS Collingwood, which also has superb recreational facilities including a gym, squash courts, swimming pool, football pitches, and more.
It is very important that the apprentices have a structure to their leisure time and so the instructors and support staff also work very hard to ensure the apprentices pursue hobbies or sports activities.
During the working day, the apprentices develop important engineering skills from day one. These can range from building up hand skills to project planning. The apprentices also spend time in the classroom following up the work they have done in the workshops with the academic theory behind the practice.
Another major part of the apprenticeship programme is being immersed in EDF Energy’s health and safety culture, which starts with wearing the same personal protective equipment as staff on power stations.
The apprentices also start each day with a safety message: a practice carried out by EDF Energy staff at every location across the UK. Replicating the same health and safety regime at HMS Sultan pays dividends for the apprentices when they return to site for the summer break at the end of year one when they will have been streamed into their discipline – Mechanical, Electrical or Control and Instrumentation.
The apprentices will be developing these skills during the second year of the HMS Sultan training scheme, before they return to site for the final two years of their apprenticeship.
During the time at HMS Sultan the apprentices also develop life skill, representing EDF Energy at a series of visits in the UK and Europe.
After four years and the completion of the programme, the apprentices will be awarded an Advanced Modern Apprenticeship Certificate of Engineering.
They will also have gained an ONC equivalent BTEC Level 3 and an NVQ Level 3 as well as an excellent selection of practical skills. And for some there may also be the option to progress onto an HNC.
EDF Energy expects the apprentices to be appointed (subject to performance criteria being met) to a full-time position at their base power station. Many will then quickly progress to become team leaders, but really the sky is the limit as regards their careers within EDF Energy.
Multiple judges praised the EDF Energy apprenticeship programme for its balanced approach. David Whitmore, global engineering and technical director at Atkins summed it up best: "A very impressive programme with a real balance of technical, leadership and life skills. A 97% retention rate speaks volumes for the quality of the training."
The Babcock EDF Energy training programme has been recognised as outstanding by key figures within the nuclear industry. Feedback is that apprentices are having a positive effect in the workplace changing the culture and behaviours particularly regarding the safety on site. This was evidenced recently when apprentices stopped a turbine from being started after they had found cracks on the blades. Apprentices have also challenged procedures and policies on site enhancing the safe working.
A high percentage of the teaching staff hold a Grade 1 observation rating which evidences the outstanding teaching and learning that takes place in the Babcock Engineering Academy.
In terms of innovative practical delivery, a dedicated ergonomics training area highlights to the apprentices the need for good body posture when working in restrictive areas. As part of their BTEC apprentices complete a maintenance schedule for an old WWII submarine, HMS Alliance.
Other shortlisted courses (apprenticeship of the year)
- Technical Specialist Trainee Scheme (Sellafield Ltd)