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My job explained: Operations support manager

nuclear power operations support25-year old Martin Brierley works as part of the operations support team at the British Nuclear Group. Here he shares his experience of teaching and training. And how he thinks chemistry helped Winston Churchill

Was there anything or anyone in particular that inspired you to study chemistry?

At school I had always shown more of an interest towards the sciences rather than the arts but there wasn’t one subject that distinctly stood out from the others.

This changed during the two years prior to GCSEs because of one teacher who showed a great enthusiasm for chemistry. His passion for chemistry ultimately rubbed off on me and it was from this moment onwards that I decided to pursue the subject at a higher level.

How long did it take to train and what did the training involve?

The graduate scheme at British Nuclear Group is a two-year training scheme and aims to ensure that all graduates (i.e. those recruited via the corporate graduate campaign) are equipped with, and able to use, a technical, behavioural and commercial toolkit to support their chosen career, be that a technical, professional or managerial role.

At the start of the training scheme graduates are placed in a base department which matches their discipline. As a requirement of the training scheme graduates don’t just stay in the base department but also go on secondments to other parts of the business for more experience and a better understanding of the company. This also provides an opportunity to explore future career paths in other departments.

The training does differ from person to person and it’s up to the individual to get the most out of the training scheme. There are so many opportunities available and the more you put in, the more you will get out.

During my training I was based in the operations support team for a First Generation Magnox Storage Pond (FGMSP) facility. Initially, I had to attend a few training courses that would allow me to work within the FGMSP. These courses gave background history on the building and identified hazards associated with the plant along with the best ways to combat them.

At the three secondments I went on I spent:

  • five months working at the company’s Springfield (Preston) site in the Atomic Absorption (AA) laboratory looking at trace elemental analysis in uranium and associated compounds
  • one month seconded onto one of the shift teams within the building, which provided more of an insight into the hands-on plant operations
  • one month with shift managers who look after the safety aspect of a group of plants within our operating unit

Can you describe a typical working day?

The job profile is broad and as such work activities are varied so there is no typical working day. But some of my activities include:

  • Project input – Provide input into projects that are installing new equipment on plant or modernising existing plant inventory to ensure plant demands are met. This role also involves providing scientific advice as and when necessary, hazard identification associated with the project and proposing ideas if a more efficient project design can be seen
  • Plant representative for interaction with other plants within our operating unit in order to ensure conditions for acceptances are not breached
  • Day-to-day plants operations i.e. control & surveillance activities of the primary containment infrastructure
  • Pond sampling - requires wearing of protective suit i.e. PVC
  • Decontamination operations - requires wearing of protective suit i.e. PVC
  • Chair person of Health and Safety forum

What's the best thing about your job?

Firstly, the variety. You get the chance to travel to other sites both within this country and abroad, and opportunities for career progression are very great.

Secondly, there are good salaries. You can be offered an attractive salary on joining the company with pay progression throughout the first three years. After that if the individual pushes themselves then career progression will continue and salaries rise accordingly.

What have been the challenges in getting to where you are now and how have you overcome it?

The hardest challenge I believe is getting that first job once finishing university. Companies want experience but seeing as you’re straight out of university you don’t have any so it’s a tricky situation.

My advice is to keep pursuing different avenues and soon enough an opportunity will arise and your career will go from strength to strength.

What qualities and skills do you think are important for your role?

  • Drive and energy.
  • An ability to think things through.
  • Integrity.
  • Working in teams.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about following in your footsteps?

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my career and its progression to date so I’d recommend it to anyone but any advice I can give is as follows:

  • Ask questions/speak to people who have gone through/going through the same situations you are experiencing as they will be able to provide the best advice.
  • Once you’ve decided on a subject to study/career path go for it and grasp any opportunity that may come along.
  • Once in your chosen profession seek, pursue and grasp every new challenge as the more you put in the more you get out.

What’s your favourite thing about chemistry?

For me chemistry has provided me with the ability to think logically and has opened the door to a variety of career pathways. As for inventions I don’t believe we can look past the synthesis of penicillin and its derivatives and how these have affected modern times – it saved the life of Winston Churchill.