Nuclear Skills Strategy Group

17 Dec 2020

YGN Futuresight - Staying at the Cutting Edge with NSSG

As part of the YGN Futuresight series, The YGN asked the Shadow Theme Leads to tell us more about the exciting plans they have in place for delivering the NSD targets. In this article, Dakotah Shirfield, Magnox Ltd, shares with us future plans for her theme area: Staying at the Cutting Edge (S@TCE).

Who Am I?

I’ve recently finished the two year nucleargraduate scheme and I am now at Trawsfynydd site with Magnox in Radiological Protection, where I’ll be supporting the site in radiological and environmental compliance; and I am excited by the opportunities to be involved in a variety of projects on site.

At sixth form I was certain that I’d either study Graphic Design or Physics; I had always enjoyed being creative but equally enjoyed the stretch and challenge of science. I rationalised that Physics and Maths at its foundation were both an art form and hence undertook a Physics Masters at University of Nottingham where I could find convergence on these aspirations whilst appreciating the potential opportunities post university, to lead a purposeful career. Fast forward a few years and I can still say that I’m challenged; have opportunities to be creative and grateful to work in an industry that is changing with respect to its culture and sustainability aspirations.

What am I interested in and why nuclear?

I, like many people my age can be driven by purpose, by challenge and community. Before entering this industry, purpose to do something that has a positive impact on society was really important to me and was inspired by the wider piece where generation from nuclear energy presents a solution to mitigate further warming of our planet - a problem many within our generation would agree is pressing. Entering the nuclear decommissioning industry has been exciting, not just in the technical problems that need young minds to help solve the complex issues presented, but being able to be proud that nuclear decommissioning is an area in society where we hold ourselves accountable and responsible for our waste and provides value to future generations.

Role within NSSG

I wanted to be on NSSG’s Shadow Theme Board having attended YGN’s Annual Seminar in Autumn 2019. As a young person new to the nuclear industry, I have found it to be welcoming; at events and conferences; on placements of which, I’ve had the opportunity to have a variety with Magnox, Atkins and NDA whose environments and cultures share some similarities but also differ. During this time, I have witnessed what it means to “Stay at the Cutting Edge” and it’s exciting. I believe that each organisation I’ve had the fortune to work within certainly have snapshots which demonstrate a desire to Stay At The Cutting Edge; some organisations are so potently and vehemently committed to these moments of good, to which these snapshots of what it means to stay at the cutting edge becomes so heavily intertwined within their daily practice so as to become a film. This film is comprised of a strategic set of ways in which they become an example of what good looks like for this theme of S@TCE; from what I have seen is that the features of this film are learning and development opportunities; supporting people, providing individual agency and a safe space for questioning attitudes; providing opportunities for upskilling and collaboration - as a start. The focus here, what foundational opportunities can we provide our “next in” generation to acquire the education, experiences and opportunities to have fulfilling careers in the nuclear sector?

I perceive education to be the biggest leveller in society and the opportunities I’ve had to learn has been really important to me. Within the theme of S@TCE, we will focus on providing mechanisms in which to provide learning opportunities which will help maintain our industry’s skills requirements. With that in mind, I’m currently working with Zara Hodgson and Liv Thompson and really enjoy being a part of their team, and they’ve certainly set ambitious deliverables.

S@TCE – Providing a pipeline to meet the Research and Development requirements in Nuclear Energy and Defence.

We were fortunate enough to get like-minded individuals in a workshop in March, where we were able to capture the thoughts of industry professionals with an interest in S@TCE which were transposed into deliverables. After many iterations of the S@TCE delivery plan, prioritisation, impact-mapping and feedback from NSSG members, we have identified a priority deliverable that has gained the support of our members and would be impactful for the sector.

A Postgraduate Institute for Nuclear (PGIN)

Within the S@TCE theme, the team are drafting a feasibility study for the development of a PGIN. We hope that this PGIN would be able to provide a relevant programme of training, development activities, and research to nurture prospective students to become the technical innovators of the sector in the future. The PGIN will help to bolster the fantastic collaboration opportunities between academia and industry that exist at present and will expand them further. The ultimate aim will be to provide a greater breadth and depth of opportunities for industry relevant post-doctoral research, which would incentivise further study and subject matter expertise which we so greatly need to be able to make progress in the realm of new build, advanced nuclear fuels.

Whilst we as a theme recognise that there are existing pipelines to engage in nuclear research, we’ve identified areas that will accelerate us towards the aspirations outlined in the NSD. We understand that there is more to S@TCE than providing research opportunities, hence we hope that the PGIN would equip students with leadership skills required for integrating into industry and to support their development. Through this PGIN we would endeavour to provide a future pipeline of talent to ensure that the nuclear industry can Stay at the Cutting Edge for research and development.

Albeit an ambitious deliverable, there are existing models for a PGIN that we can learn from, including the National Physical Laboratory’s Post Graduate Institute and others in the US which have been of great success. We have also a history of piloting new delivery mechanisms for post-graduate research such as the Centre for Innovation in Nuclear Decommissioning (CINDe), and hence we plan to draw learning and inspiration from these existing programmes and initiatives before scoping out what a Post-graduate hub might look like for our Nuclear Industry… Watch this space!

Reaching out and inspiring people in nuclear careers

We wouldn’t be able to S@TCE without first enticing the “next in” generation to aspire to join this industry. The S@TCE team have been working with Professor Andrew Sherry at NNL to develop a podcast which we feel delivers just this. The podcast provides honest advice and interesting career lessons from people at various stages of their own career journey. Each podcast interviews an individual and takes listeners on a journey from discussing how their early childhood shaped their career choices to giving their younger selves life tips which they have picked up on in their career journey. 

Original blog post.