Helping to create a new power source for the world – it’s all in a day’s work at the UK Atomic Energy Authority

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) are currently developing a machine that will make energy from nuclear fusion, the process that fuels stars. If they are successful at recreating this reaction on earth, it would mean a carbon-free, boundless source of energy for humanity.

But to get fusion up and running, they need the skills of hundreds of scientists, engineers, technicians – and apprentices.

Tom, Katriya, Lydia and Sam all started their careers at UKAEA as technician apprentices. During their apprenticeships, they moved around different departments at UKAEA to figure out where they wanted to end up. They took some time out to explain to us what they think are the main benefits of their apprenticeship – unsurprisingly, being able to figure out what they wanted from work, in a way they couldn’t at school was a big plus with each of them.

Katriya, a third-year electrical apprentice didn't always know she wanted to work in engineering. “I did AS-levels and for a long time I wanted to go to university to do Art – but I also had another passion for physics and maths.”

Sam, a fourth-year apprentice who has ambitions to be a Mechanical Technician, was intrigued by the earn and learn model of an apprenticeship. “I left school after doing my GCSEs, as opposed to staying on for A-levels, but I didn’t want to give up on education as well. So, when this opportunity came about to get my education and get my hands dirty, and I saw that I could get where I wanted to without having to go down the same route as everyone else; I thought I would be really silly to not apply for it.”

The Culham apprenticeship scheme, which supplies apprentices to UKAEA and other companies on the same site, now trains around 70 apprentices each year to keep up with the need for technicians and technical skills.

Technicians are vital to all operations at UKAEA – in fact there are around 300 full-time technicians working there. 

Tom, who’s been at UKAEA for nine years and is now a Mechanical Technician, knew that an apprenticeship with UKAEA would lead him on to the highest levels. “I started off on a Level 3 [A-level equivalent] apprenticeship, went on to get a HNC, HND, a degree in Engineering and now I’m looking at doing a masters degree as well.

“Being a technician means that you get to make other people’s dreams a reality – you have your engineers, designers and physicists here who have lots of ideas, but you’re the one who takes those ideas and actually makes something physical out of them.

“I think it’s fantastic to be part of such a big team, working on a massive issue that’s facing us all. I enjoy every day that I’m here doing it.”

But how do you know if being a technician would be right for you? Lydia, a Mechanical Project Engineer who’s been at UKAEA for 7 years, has some tips.

“If you’re good at problem-solving, enjoy taking things apart or you’ve got good attention to detail – these are all things that are really useful and helpful to this job.”

“Ultimately, it’s the qualities that you have as a person that will make you good at something, not necessarily what subjects you like at school. There are so many opportunities available and it’s definitely a very rewarding and interesting career path.”

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