Career profile: my experience on the nucleargraduates scheme

Abigail de Carteret worked on Rolls-Royce submarines and at the Ministry of Defence on the graduate scheme run by nucleargraduates.
Many of the tasks during the assessment centre tested whether we could solve problems under pressure.

Growing up I had always been more interested in building and fixing things than traditionally ‘girly’ toys and at school my favourite subjects were science and maths. So while studying engineering may have been an obvious choice, nuclear engineering wasn’t really on my radar as a potential career – at university just a part of one module focused on it. It was only when I was looking at what to do afterwards that I came across the nucleargraduates scheme. I was particularly impressed by the structure of the scheme, as graduates would complete three placements in two years.

About the assessment process for the nucleargraduates scheme

Although I didn’t have much specific technical knowledge of nuclear engineering, engineering gives you a lot of transferable skills, such as problem solving, that are useful across all fields and throughout the recruitment process. Many of the tasks during the assessment centre, for instance, tested whether we could solve problems under pressure. I had also been the cox for the men’s rowing team at university, which gave me leadership skills and showed that I would be able to make my voice heard in the male-dominated engineering industry.

Throughout the scheme each graduate is sponsored by an employer, who will cover the cost of training and professional qualifications. Representatives from these sponsor employers were present at the assessment centre and there was quite a bit of opportunity to speak to them outside of the exercises. At the end of the application process I received offers from four of the sponsor employers.

I hadn’t previously considered working with submarines, but decided to accept Rolls- Royce Submarines’ offer as their representative showed a genuine knowledge of and passion for the scheme.

How my nucleargraduates programme was structured

I was sponsored by Rolls-Royce Submarines during the programme, which is where I had my first placement and where I would likely work at the end of the scheme. During this first secondment I worked on the factory floor as part of a welding team at a manufacturing facility and was even trusted to take charge of small projects – which was quite nerve-racking, considering it was only my first placement. The scheme also requires you complete two secondments at organisations outside of your sponsor employer.

At the Ministry of Defence (MoD), on my second secondment, I became more familiar with the technical aspects and regulations surrounding submarines. This was especially useful as the MoD is essentially the ‘customer’ for Rolls-Royce Submarines. My final secondment was focused specifically on design work. I had noticed I was not getting the design experience that I needed to qualify as a chartered engineer and so arranged my third placement at International Nuclear Services to achieve this.

What I loved about the scheme

These two years were filled with many incredible and informative experiences, but the highlight was a five-day trip to learn about Sweden’s nuclear industry and waste management programme. It also gave me insights into life in Sweden. There can’t be many graduate schemes that take you 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle to meet the indigenous Sami people, ride with reindeer and watch the northern lights.

Moving from secondment to secondment every few months gave me a breadth of experience from different companies in different parts of the country and I thoroughly enjoyed it. However, by the end of the two years I was glad to settle down in one place and commit to a permanent role.

About my current role

Now that I’ve graduated from the scheme I assist with authorising and reviewing maintenance work for nuclear submarines. Due to the nature of the work, every action needs to follow an incredibly strict procedure. This means that something that could take a matter of hours in another sector can take days in nuclear. While this was frustrating at first, you get used to it and it’s a worthwhile sacrifice as it’s for safety reasons.

I’d say the most exciting thing is still going onto submarines and being able to see how everything works. However, if all goes to plan, the submarine that I am working on at the moment will be the last nuclear submarine refuelled in the UK. After that my role will change to one where I will be decommissioning old submarines, which will bring with it new processes to learn and challenges to overcome.

My careers advice for graduates

From my own experience I’d say that it’s important that throughout your job search that you put your best side across and be yourself. Don’t get too worried about how many applications your friends have sent off; instead, focus on making quality applications for the roles you care about. I followed what I found interesting and what I enjoyed and didn’t try to please somebody else. There’s no point putting on a show for a day or two at interview if that’s not who you’re going to be every day.

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