Training and recruitment

Going to the other side

17 May 2010

The UK regulator has launched a recruitment campaign to attract industry veterans – not just from the nuclear sector – to become inspectors. A new recruit tells her tale.

Vik Winspear-Roberts has been a Nuclear Installations Inspector since 2008 when she made the decision to become part of the UK Health and Safety Executive’s Nuclear Directorate. However, Winspear-Roberts’ nuclear career didn’t start in 2008, but years earlier. After following in her father’s footsteps and leaving university with a degree in chemical engineering, Winspear-Roberts’ first nuclear related role was at Springfields, where she worked in a number of technical support roles, eventually moving into plant management on the old Magnox fuel manufacturing route.

Despite her enjoyment of the role, a desire to move her family closer to her parents kickstarted her decision to move out of nuclear, an industry which then appeared to be in slow decline, and into a role in the cement industry in North Wales.

Over time Winspear-Roberts found that the job required her to work extremely long hours and weekends, and was not compatible with her desire to spend time with her young family.

When she turned to the nuclear industry, she found that the industry she had left was starting to look and feel very different. It was at this point that Winspear-Roberts decided to apply for a regulatory role in the Nuclear Directorate, based at its HQ in Bootle, Merseyside.

The UK’s nuclear industry has been changing considerably in recent years through organisational upheaval and the much-anticipated prospect of building new nuclear power plants. The regulator is deeply involved in the changes, and is changing too, building relationships internally and externally.

“My line manager and the unit I work with are incredibly supportive. The regulatory work we do means we can apply our knowledge and skills across a complete cross section of the industry, without being limited to just one part. I also feel that I’m a valued member of a much larger team of nuclear inspectors, all with different specialisms and experience, and colleagues in the professional support functions, who are all very helpful and passionate about the work we do and are dedicated to achieving our mission.”

Winspear-Roberts says that her job is, put simply, to make a decision. “I need to make an independent and informed judgement on the adequacy of a nuclear safety case.

“The safety case includes all the documented information from the licensee which presents an argument to substantiate the safety of a plant, an activity, operation or a modification. I then apply my knowledge and experience to assess the adequacy of that before giving an opinion, normally in the form of a report.”

Having previously worked in the nuclear industry, Winspear-Roberts had a pre-conceived idea of what the role of the regulator was. The reality of the role was very different to that which she’d previously understood it to be.

“When I was in industry,” she said, “I thought what an easy job for these people [Nuclear Directorate Inspectors] to come along and point out where I’m going wrong and have no responsibility for making that right. The reality of working for the Nuclear Directorate is that the arguments that we put forward have to be proportionate, consistent, transparent, accountable and targeted. We need to be very clear on what we’re going to do.

“Any argument has to be watertight because at the end of the day it’s going to be my judgement that I’m accountable for, for a very long time. If anything happens 20 years into the future because of something I’ve said, my assessment will still be called up. So it’s not always a comfortable position to be in but it makes me really consider the arguments in place and that’s not something that we necessarily need to do when we’re in the industry.”

Winspear-Roberts’ line manager Andy Trimble has 27 years’ experience in the organisation. He heads up the intervention progress group for high level waste plants, which regulates that part of the Sellafield site.

“We’re trying to make it a supportive and a sharing culture.” He also says that over the last five or six years there has been much more emphasis on building good relationships with the licensees.

“These people are professionals, they’ve got a job to do and a big chunk of that is safety-related. We try and ensure that we are a positive influence in that regard and that the relationship between us is as open as possible.”

When asked whether inspectors view all of the organisation’s changes as positive, Trimble says, “I think any change has got to be sensitively managed. I can see the pragmatic way forward and we need to respond to the needs not just of the politicians but of the industry and other stakeholders as well, whilst retaining our independence as a regulator.

“The only way we’re going to do that is by bringing in skilled staff and by developing them to bring them up to speed as quickly as possible in order that we can respond effectively and efficiently as needed. Behavioural competence is as important to us as a regulator as technical ability.”

As a new recruit, Winspear-Roberts is enrolled on a two-year training programme. “We soon get up to speed on enforcement and legal issues associated with the role. All new starters get to meet together and we get support and mentoring from other inspectors who share their experiences. So it is very inclusive. It has been a marked change for me from what I used to do and a very welcome one as well.”

The sell

“We recognise that our applicants are mostly content in their current roles and may not actively be seeking a career change,” says Natasha Jones, the Nuclear Directorate’s human resources business partner.

“There are a number of reasons why people are deciding to join us. A lot of people are attracted by the fact that we can offer them the opportunity to use their skills, knowledge and expertise in a regulatory capacity. Another big pull is the opportunity people have with us to contribute to the safety legacy that the Nuclear Directorate team are creating. People are really attracted to the fact that we can offer a full and interesting career as they can come in and work in a variety of roles that span the entire nuclear industry.

“Since 2007 we’ve recruited 56 people into nuclear installation inspector roles, which is great. However, we expect recruitment to continue to be a priority for us in the coming years in the same way as it is for others in the industry. As the regulator we are currently looking to recruit people with experience of working in responsible positions in the nuclear sector or other high-hazard industry,” Jones says.

Author Info:

Based on an interview carried out by Will Dalrymple, editor of Nuclear Engineering International

Is it for you?

Applicants to become a nuclear inspector need to have:

Professional qualities:

- A good honours degree, or equivalent, in an appropriate scientific or engineering subject.
- Corporate membership of a relevant professional institution.
- Experience of working in responsible positions in the nuclear sector or other high-hazard industry in design, construction, operation or safety appraisal in a safety case environment.
- Ideally, a sound understanding of the current nuclear industry context and understanding of relevant principles and practices.
- A full driving licence for the UK.

Personal qualities:

- Sound judgement based on knowledge and expertise, often in a pressurised environment.
- Drive and determination, and ability to stay calm under pressure.
- An influential and persuasive approach to achieving objectives.
-Ability to get the job done in difficult circumstances.
- Ability to work as part of a team.
- Ability to effectively plan, prioritise and be forward-thinking, have good investigative ability, and initiative to generate appropriate research.

For more information, go to

Privacy Policy
We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.