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Working life on the nucleargraduates scheme: power, submarines and a visit to Romania

When he graduated, Fergus had no idea that in just a year’s time he’d be working on a defence project and visiting an out-of-water submarine.
My highlight of the entire scheme was going to visit an out-of-water nuclear submarine; it was surreal.

I grew up in Aberdeenshire, where oil and gas engineering is very prominent. At university, I felt that there was pressure to have a career plan, but I’ve never had one. I just build on what I enjoy and keep doing it until I don’t enjoy it any longer. I’d had a vague idea that I would end up in oil and gas, but when I graduated prices crashed and many graduate schemes were no longer available. So I put my CV out into the world and applied for everything, including roles in the whisky and telecommunications industries and the nucleargraduates scheme.

The nucleargraduates recruitment process

To be honest, I had forgotten about applying to the nucleargraduates scheme until I was contacted about a phone interview. I started looking into it more seriously and saw that nuclear had more longevity. It was then that I really wanted a place on the scheme.

The recruitment process was robust. After your initial application, there were psychometric tests and a video interview. It finished with a two-day assessment centre. The fact that the recruitment process was so challenging made you realise how competitive the scheme was. I made sure to show my enthusiasm for the graduate scheme during the assessment centre. One way to do this is to ask lots of questions about specifics, such as exactly what training and qualifications you can receive – as long as the answers aren’t available on the company website.

My extracurriculars helped me fly

I suggest that you take part in activities at university that give you examples other than group projects to talk about during interviews. Getting involved with the university air squadron helped me succeed during the nucleargraduates assessment centre. For example, during the roleplays, I had different experiences that I could call upon to help me work out how best to react. The air squadron teaches you how to fly, but also about good communication, leadership and public speaking. I was in a leadership role of a squadron of 65 students. It gave me a lot of confidence and, looking back, it was a way to gain skills that a lot of other students don’t have on their CV.

My nucleargraduates experience

The nucleargraduates scheme is made up of three or four placements that can be with almost any company in nuclear. You have your first placement at your sponsor company, so mine was at Jacobs. After this you contact companies in areas that interest you and organise your own placement.

During my first placement I worked on a nuclear waste processing plant. I got involved with how the project complies with safety regulations and legislation. Next, I went into nuclear defence. That’s a world you wouldn’t normally get to enter and it was fascinating to learn more about it. My highlight of the entire scheme was going to visit an out-of-water nuclear submarine; it was surreal. I was proud of working on a component for it, even though it was small. My final placement was on a nuclear power plant during a scheduled power outage for maintenance; it was all hands on deck.

I feel that I’ve learned more about the nuclear industry in two years with nucleargraduates than I might otherwise have done in my whole career. I even went to Romania to learn about that country’s use of nuclear power, which was fascinating – especially considering the country’s history. I have also been able to have a much broader experience than if I’d gone through a one-company graduate scheme. The only aspect of the nuclear industry I haven’t been involved in yet is research and Jacobs is involved with such a vast range of sectors that I may well have the opportunity to get involved with that later.

A supportive environment

I appreciated the level of support on the scheme. I was given a buddy who was a year ahead of me in the scheme and could answer all sorts of questions, including advice on where to live. I also had an excellent mentor from Jacobs: he was there to help me decide what placements to go for, to supervise my work towards my engineering professional qualification and to advise me on how to get the most of my placements. He gave me impartial, valuable advice.

You have a very busy two years: you are working full time, studying for a postgraduate certificate and working towards your professional qualification. I’ve always felt that you get out what you put in, but I’ve been grateful that nucleargraduates build in generous study and training time.

My ‘no plan’ worked

In some ways, it might have been preferable if I had had more of a plan when at university, but I might not have ended up where I am. A question that I always ask myself is ‘am I still enjoying what I’m doing?’ and the answer is ‘yes’.

A mechanical engineer who completed the nucleargraduates scheme
Fergus Baird
Job title: 
Mechanical engineer

2010–2015 Studied for, and graduated with, an MEng in mechanical engineering with aeronautics from the University of Glasgow.
2011–2015 Was active in the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde air squadron, part of the RAF volunteer reserves.
2014–2015 Completed a final-year project in conjunction with an oil and gas company.
2015 Joined the nucleargraduates scheme, sponsored by Jacobs, and completed a placement on a nuclear waste processing plant.
2016 Completed a second placement in nuclear defence.
2017 Completed a final placement in nuclear power generation; gained a PGCert in nuclear technology; joined Jacobs full time as a mechanical engineer.

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