Apprenticeships in the ‘green sector’ (not just Geography or STEM!)

If you’re a Geography or STEM educator, and you’re looking for a convincing arguement to get those youngsters into your courses as a way of increasing their options for the future. Then look no further! You’re going to want to read this!

For my day job, I work out of the University of East Anglia as part of a Uni Connect programme to increase accessibility to higher education for underpresented groups. Amongst my roles and responsibilities, I facilitate helping youngsters to learn about how apprenticeships can be a pathway into higher education and employment.

Add to the mix two things I’m passionate about: podcasting (basically, talking!) and environmental activism, and you get a series of podcast episodes about apprenticeships in the green sector.

What are apprenticeships?

Apprenticeships are effectively jobs. For most of the time (80%, actually) you are a full employee with all the rights and responsibilities that come with. But for 20% of the time, which could be one day out of every week, or blocks lasting whole weeks or months, you are with a training provider such as a college or university learning all the theory and skills needed to develop your role and career.

Apprenticeships can be done from the age of 16 and they are an increasing way of getting young people into training or work, and are exceptionally valued by employers. Check out the Amazing Apprenticeships website for more info.

Dispelling myths and stereotypes about the green economy

A 2019 report from the OECD (p16) stated “that the green economy spans multiple sectors of the economy and not only in sectors whose primary activity is to contribute to environmental
protection, such as the waste management sector.”

From: FTSE Russell (2018), Investing in the global green economy: Busting common myths

Is there anything from the pie chart that does or doesn’t suprise you? Now think of this… None of the sectors above can operate without physical or business infrastructure. Take Transport Solutions for example. Off the top of my head, I can think of a number of jobs or roles needed to make that work, such as:

  • Finance and accountancy to ensure any solution is economically viable and sustainable
  • A knowledge of population dynamics such as commuter patterns, footfall on transport networks etc
  • GIS and spatial analysis
  • Mechanics, engineers to design and service vehicles and their infrastructure
  • Urban planners if there is a need to reconfigure or redesign existing road infrastructure
  • Environmental impact and risk analysis

I could go on… but this does demonstrate that the ‘green’ sector and jobs that can arise from a ‘green’ ecomony is exceptionally interdisplinary, requiring knowledge and skills from all sorts.

A push towards ‘green’ apprenticeships – now’s the time

So we have growing sectors in the ‘green’ economy, and apprenticeships are increasingly a popular method to train and upskill people. It is no surprise therfore that the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, sponsored by the Department for Education, has set up a Green Apprenticeships Advisory Panel. The panel’s aims are to “[enhance] our current apprenticeships to ensure that they meet the needs of the employers within the growing green economy” and “[create] new apprenticeships to reflect new occupations to meet the challenge to reach net-zero carbon”.

For the Take Your Apprenticeship podcast, I spoke to Anna West from the Institute about who the Institute is, why they felt the need to set up a Green Apprenticeship Advisory Panel, how do we know the green economy is the future, and why young people should take comfort in the future job market despite the current pandemic.

TRANSCRIPT (coming soon)

Cleaned auto-transcript (coming soon):

Apprenticeships at Sizewell C

Also for the podcast, I talked to Rachel Kerry, Head of Human Resources at Sizewell C. Sizewell C is a proposed nuclear power station that will be built on the Suffolk coast. Not only is this worth a listen for the potential career opportunities for our youngsters, but also is a great source of information which can inform the debate about nuclear energy. Nuclear power is a controversial issue, and when I taught Geography, I certainly used it as a way to develop student’s geographical reasoning and substantiated argument skills. Some of the things I talked to Rachel about were:

  • How apprenticeships at Sizewell C are part of the growing need for jobs in the ‘green’ sector
  • Examples of the types of vacancies/courses offered
  • Starting salaries/benefits
  • What the study-element of the course is like
  • What the first steps a young person should take in gaining an apprenticeship at Sizewell C
  • Is nuclear energy really an environmentally-friendly solution to fight climate change
  • The Young Sizewell C Project (for those aged 16-21 living in Norfolk & Suffolk)
TRANSCRIPT (click to expand)

Cleaned auto-transcript:

Kit: Hello there, my name is Kit Rackley and my pronouns are they/them and I am a neaco Higher Education Champion for Take Your Place. Today I talk to Rachel Kerry, Head of Human Resources at Sizewell C. Sizewell C is a proposed nuclear power station that will be built on the Suffolk coast. We talk about the way in which apprenticeships at Sizewell C are part of the growing need for jobs in the green sector; talk about the examples of the types of vacancies and courses offered; what are the starting salaries and benefits; what is the study element of the course like; what should be the first steps a young person makes in gaining an apprenticeship at Sizewell C and some more information about the exciting Young Sizewell C Project. Let’s have a listen…

Kit: Hi everybody, welcome to Take Your Apprenticeship and I am joined by Rachel Kerry from Sizewell C. Hello Rachel, thank you very much for joining us.

Rachel: Hi Kit, good to be here.

Kit: So, Rachel, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about the role that you do?

Rachel: Yes, so as Kit says my name’s Rachel Kerry and I’m the head of human resources for the Sizewell C project. Essentially, it’s my job to make sure that the project has the right people with the right skills and experience in the right jobs at the right time and so everything to do with people working on the project; apprenticeships are a really important way of making sure I can do this, and they enable us to train young people so that you all have the skills we need to develop, construct, operate our new nuclear power station in Suffolk.

Kit: Wonderful, yes, and not just the green sector but of course apprenticeships themselves are a growing way of getting into employment and for training. And it’s so we know that the apprenticeship side I think that method of delivery that method of learning and getting to work is on the increase but of course, so is the green sector. And these regular listeners podcast know that I have a geography background as an ex-high school teacher and so I always disclose that in case anybody thinks there’s any bias! But yeah so, these things therefore go hand in hand and Sizewell C seems to be in a perfect position here. So, in what way are apprenticeships at Sizewell C part of this growing need for jobs in the green sector?

Rachel: I think to help answer that question we should probably look to start with what we’re actually doing in Suffolk and so Sizewell C is a low carbon nuclear power station being proposed for Suffolk which will help the UK reach net zero emissions by 2050. Our application to build Sizewell C is currently being considered by the planning inspectorate and we’re hoping obviously a positive outcome there. Sizewell C will deliver enough low carbon electricity for six million homes and will save nine million tons of carbon dioxide during every year of its 60-year operation…

Kit: Wow, that’s huge

Rachel: …huge contributions yes, nuclear power is really important because it provides low carbon electricity whatever the weather and it does that for millions and millions of homes, businesses and will really help us to replace the fossil fuels that we’ve been using for decades to produce electricity. So, all the coal, gas, and so on, it replaces our usage of those. We know electricity usage is going to increase as well, you see you know, transport’s becoming increasing electric, we see the electric cars everywhere now and charging points and heating systems as well are increasingly moving to electricity from traditional gas, coal etc. So we submitted our application to build Sizewell C to the planning inspectorate back in May 2020 and this is currently being considered. Sizewell C is going to be a, we call it ‘second of a kind’ and that means we’ve got a power station we’re already building down in Hinckley called Hinckley Point C and essentially, we’re looking to replicate that build of the Hinckley power station in Suffolk and that will be the Sizewell C power station. So very much learning from what we’re doing down in Hinckley. And the Hinckley Point C set power station; that’s in its fourth year of construction. Construction is much longer than that 10 plus years and obviously so for Sizewell it will be a much longer construction process.

Kit: That’s awesome so that actually leads us quite nicely onto next bit so give us some examples of the types of vacancies and apprenticeships that that you offer?

Rachel: So, we’re looking to create 1500 apprenticeships, so significant number of apprenticeships within the local area and on top of the apprenticeships, looking to employ thousands of local people as well during construction of the power station and then once we’re operating. I’ve talked about that 60-year operation; operating the power station will take 900 people at any point in time to do that, so a huge employer for the area

Kit: That’s incredible that amount, because we know that for the East of England particularly with higher and degree apprenticeships, East of England’s not well known for those vacancies. There’s a far more in terms of intermediate and advanced and I think, is it true that you you’ve got apprenticeships running all through you’ve got some level twos all the way up to level sixes?

Rachel: So yes, we’ve got a huge range of apprenticeships going on in Hinckley Point C and for Sizewell C. We also intend to then offer that full range of opportunities as well, right from the conventional through to degree level apprenticeships. That’s all through the construction of the of the project, nine to 12 years.

Kit:  That’s great and the one thing I really love [is that] I’ve learned a lot about apprenticeships doing this this job for neaco; is it allays those kind of fears that; if you’ve got a massive construction element where you’ve got to deal with the building, the infrastructure. that kind of stuff, well surely the jobs are all finished that’s it, there’s no prospects beyond the finished construction but actually what apprenticeships do, is that that might  the apprenticeship will come to an end, because they do, they’re a course as well as work, but it leaves you with industry experience and the skills to enable for you to move on in your career if you want to stay in that sector. And so to hear that so many apprenticeships are coming here in a part of the country which is lagging behind other parts of the country in terms of apprenticeships, that’s really  good to hear and I think our young people will be quite encouraged by that.

Rachel: Yes,and I think it’s important that some of the apprenticeships are in that construction field and absolutely provide careers for life beyond the construction of this project. Construction, mechanical roles, engineering, digital engineering, welding, project management, steel fixing, to name but a few. But there’s also apprenticeships in many of the supply site support services, so very transferable skills outside of any construction or building project. And there are things like logistics, environment health, and safety, security, accountancy skills that can translate into any industry outside of nuclear construction or anything else. So yeah, absolutely the apprenticeships that we’ll be providing will provide that foundation for your careers and whatever you choose to do throughout the life of your careers.

Kit: That’s perfect because you’ve actually dispelled two myths there really, one of them, okay, so there might not be a specific job for you after the construction phase but there are still so many things that you can do after that and it is upskilling you for much more greater things and much more flexibility as you get older. But the second thing is, and this is something as a geographer I always used to get very annoyed about, and that is if you’re doing something environmental related then all you can do is maybe do an apprenticeship where you go up a wind turbine or maybe look after creatures in a river or something like that, but actually you’ve just said you’ve just covered so many sectors, everything from accountancy to construction. So yes, of course, construction is going to be a big one but you’ve got all these other elements to it as well and I think what I would recommend to any young person listening: do your research. Just because it says Sizewell C don’t think “I’m not interested in energy”, “I’m not interested in the environment” or something like that. Actually, take a look because there might be something about accounting, security, comms, so there might be something there.

Rachel: Absolutely. We employ people in any number of roles, many of which are found in any industry, any organization, and so you’re really future proofing your career by taking an apprenticeship with the Sizewell C project. The world’s your oyster once you’ve completed it, essentially.

Kit: Perfect. So, what kind of… I mean there must be quite a range then, but can you give us some examples of maybe starting salaries, benefits, that kind of stuff?

Rachel: The varying different apprenticeships all have slightly different salaries attached to them. Broadly speaking, starting salaries vary between around £12,000 per year through to £18,500-£19,000 a year. It’s a really good starting salary and there’s annual pay increases with that. If it’s a degree apprenticeship, the starting salary will be a little bit higher as you would expect. In terms of benefits you get the full gamut of employment benefits. Importantly, 25 days paid holiday which we all need that break to refresh and rejuvenate, but also thinking ahead into the future getting you invested into a pension scheme. Really important start that savings habit! Well-being support services, flexible benefits packages, so you kind of get to pick and choose the benefits that are most relevant to you. Some of the apprenticeships if you need it there’s residential accommodation support. So, if the apprenticeship is one that requires you to be away from where  you live and there’s support to be provided there and travel allowances and so a really good package of benefits all round. I think importantly one of the big things for me with apprenticeships is you are earning as you’re learning. It’s a well-worn phrase but it’s true and I think if you’ve been quite nervous about entering further education from the cost of that and from student loans and so on and so forth, apprenticeships [are a] really accessible way into both getting that training and that study background, but also getting into the work environment and earning a salary for doing so.

Kit: That’s a message we’ve been trying to say time and time again at neaco. People say “it’s only £13,000, only £18,000”… but wait a minute. Pause and think right because you are actually getting a qualification out of this where you do not have to pay any tuition fees or things like that so if you’re being put off by that there are ways around. You don’t have to worry too much about university finance because of the structure involved but if that still worries you, this is a perfect thing. You’ve not got any fees to pay but you’re getting paid as well. And as Rachel just said  you’ve got yearly pay increments as well. Yes, the minimum hourly wage which the government has set is £4.30 an hour at the moment but as you can hear actually very many will actually pay a little bit more or they’ll increase that quite rapidly. So don’t get put off by the amount. I’ll tell you what, Rachel, I was pleasantly surprised to hear about in some circumstances there is accommodation allowance as well because that is actually not that common with apprenticeships. So that’s really nice to hear. If you’re listening to this and you’re not based in Suffolk, so you’re in Norwich or you’re in Cambridge or something like that and it’s just too far away from home for you. that is something you can research and find out from Sizewell C, whether you can qualify for that kind of benefit. So, that’s really good to hear.

Rachel: There’s loads more detail and information on our early careers web page on the EDF website for people who want to really explore into that, then go there and have a look.

Kit: Wonderful, yeah, and we’ll put all the links and stuff in the description. You mentioned about learning while you’re earning so what is that learning element like?

Rachel: They’re equivalent of one day a week, 20% of the role. What do they get up to and during that time it varies depending on the course. And again, if you’re really interested in this go and have a look at the details. But absolutely, some courses will offer full-time residential study others it’s sort of part-time which is the one day a week in college and four days a week actually within the company, or block study so you sort of separate your study and your work time. More details for all of the programmes can be found on the early careers web page. Also, our Young Sizewell C section of the website which I really do want to promote because that’s a really great resource we can talk about a little bit more as well. But there’s some real life case studies there, so rather than just hearing it from me, the head of human resources, actually look into that because it’s people who are actually doing this at Hinckley. They will talk about how it works for them on the on the various different programs.

Kit: And that’s very important everybody – it’s a piece of advice your teachers and your careers advisors and us here at neaco will give you all the time is do your research. It really is worth it so you can listen to me and Rachel talk about this but this podcast really is only like the first stepping stone to finding out more. So please make sure you do that and there’ll be the links in description as I’ve already said. Okay, so a couple more things and then we’ll talk about young Sizewell C because I’m really excited about this as well. What would be the first steps for a young person if they want to gain an apprenticeship at Sizewell C? What would what be your advice – the first things they should do?

Rachel: I think do a little bit more exploring as to what Sizewell C is all about; what the nuclear industry is about and what we as a company are about. I think a really good way of doing that is actually to visit our visitor centre at Sizewell B. Sizewell B is one of our operating power stations that’s basically the same site as Sizewell C. We’ve got a visitor centre there, great place to visit and learn more about the industry so really sort of get under the skin of what we’re about. Also our visitor centre guides; they attend career fairs and other events at schools and colleges in your area, so you check those out as well if you want someone [and] you’ve got a careers fair at your school. {If] we’re not there then let your careers teacher know and they can contact us and we can ensure we have a stall there. There are actual tours of Sizewell B as well, so an opportunity there for you to go and have a look around and really get to see what it’s actually really like because I can talk about this, you can talk about this, Kit, you can look at pictures on websites even look at videos and stuff but actually you really get a feel for what it is like to be part of working in in the industry.

Kit: I’m never going to push back against a recommendation for a field trip either! Absolutely I might have to see if I can help lead one via neaco. We’ll have to wait and see about that! But I can dream. Right so one last question for you before we talk we end on talking about Young Sizewell C which is really cool. I know because I’ve taught it myself when we teach about the energy industry and stuff like that in Geography that nuclear energy and nuclear power is always a controversial issue and there’s very polarizing opinions on that, and there’s a lot of stereotype that goes around. So the question I’d like to ask you then is for people listening who need a clear response with regards to the kind of myths out there in terms of nuclear energy and they really do want to do something progressive, something for the environment, something green, but they feel that nuclear energy is not compatible with that. What would you say to these people to allay their fears?

Rachel: I think it’s a very good point, a very valid question and challenge. I think the important information to know is that the two reactors that we’ll be building at Sizewell C they’ll be capable of generating enough low carbon electricity to supply over six million homes with their needs. That means, as I said before, it avoids that nine million tons of carbon emissions every year of operation in comparison to a gas-fired power station. So from an environmental perspective, it’s absolutely superior to burning fossil fuels to generate electricity. The carbon dioxide from the construction phase – which inevitably there is some, it’s a building project – that’s offset within a matter of months because of the efficiency of the power generation. So actually look at the offset perspective there, it’s phenomenally quick when you compare it to a lot of other industries. I think as well nuclear can just generate such large quantities of electricity from various relatively small areas of land and in turn also enables more renewables to come online. The big challenge for renewable energy be it solar power, be it wind power, is it’s affected by the weather. It can’t generate all the time because if there’s no wind, or if it’s very cloudy and so on, that affects their ability to generate power. So while we transition from fossil fuels to a future that’s much more renewable we have to have something that keeps the lights on essentially and nuclear power is that tool. It’s clean, green energy that does allow as we move forward to bring on more renewable power but gives that certainty that at any given time of the day or night the country and globally, but certainly from a UK perspective, the country is able to operate that we don’t have those dips in power supply that inevitably you get through renewables because they’re dependent on the weather.

Kit: I’m going to go a little bit Geography teacher here for just a couple of minutes because I just want young people to just think about this aspect. Right, so we need the energy. If we’re really pushing back about the fact that these power plants need to be built then we need to think about; well what is generating that need? Well it is all of our hunger for energy, right? So you’ve got this location on the Suffolk coast and here are your options. You can have a nuclear power station, you can have a coal-fired power station or a gas-fired power station or you can have a solar farm, which is fantastic technology but it’s still in its infancy, or you can have a wind farm and of course it’s very close to places like RSPB Minsmere for example. So which of those options actually, taking all the environmental factors and long-term factors into account, is actually the best way forward? A bit of critical thinking will tell you actually this is the best way forward for the current state of play. And of course there are lots of local projects going on and stuff like that where you’re enhancing the environment as well. I think the last time I read there’s like 47 hectares of new habitats for marsh harriers for example. So you’re working with the environment and anything we build there is going to have an impact environment. It’s what you do about that and people can look up themselves and look at the independent studies that turn around and say well this is what they’re doing and this is actually going to be a net benefit to the environment if you take everything into consideration. But don’t take our word for it, that’s all out there and you can look that up for yourself.

Rachel: Absolutely Kit, I think that the final point I’d make on that is if we’re going to reach net zero we have to have this mix of nuclear, renewables, we’re not going to do it without that mix.

Kit: We’ll get there one day everybody but we’re not quite there yet. Like battery storage for renewables is coming. I know from my previous job that that’s amazing technology coming online but it’s not quite there yet for a commercial industrial scale. Right, let’s end up ending on a positive now because I’m really excited for you to tell us about this, something called the Young Sizewell C project. So go ahead, what’s this all about?

Rachel: We do and it is really exciting. So we’ve got a dedicated service that’s focused absolutely for 16 to 21 year olds and it’s called Young Sizewell C. You can find out much more about Young Sizewell C on our website and importantly this is where you can actually register to be on our mailing list. And once you’re on our mailing list you’ll then be the first to hear about upcoming events and opportunities with us. So sign up for Young Sizewell C and you’ll get to find out everything that’s going on the project. It’s also a great resource for getting work ready, there’s loads of interactive options on there to look at how you can start to plan your career, prepare for interviews, think about some of the activities you do, whether it’s in school or out of school that can help shape your CV and so on. Really good resource to look out for getting work ready. Interactive careers portal, where you can experience computer generated image of the construction site and look at some of the roles that will be needed so really have a good play around with it. Also, there’s a virtual tour of Sizewell B which is led by Poppy, who’s one of our local apprentices who’s already in Suffolk. We actually get you to see what it looks like inside a power station because I’m sure we all have images, but actually get to see what it looks like…

Kit: Yeah, it’s not like the Simpson’s everybody!

Rachel: Right, with pressing the button! Yeah, so there’s an employment and skills prospectus on there so you can download that have a good look at look through that find out details about the skills we need and the places you can get them. It’s also the place, importantly, to look out for jobs. We’ve already recruited apprentices in, I think, it’s quantity surveying, project control, civil engineering and importantly the Young Sizewell C… it’s linked with all of our job service so absolutely it’s the place to go sign up for it. You’ll get to find out so much more about the project and importantly get that link to jobs and careers that we will have within Sizewell C for years to come.

Kit: And it’s not just a good careers resource it’s a good teaching resource as well because one thing, and I must admit I did spend a little bit too long playing around with it, and that’s the Energy Mixer, so where they can try and keep all the lights on in Britain by changing the energy mix and it’s and it’s all using proper data and everything like that and it just goes to show how challenging it is to keep those lights on and why the energy mix is very important. So yeah, it’s one for the Geography and Science teachers there to have a have a look at. Rachel, this has been an absolute pleasure talking to you and you’ve left me really excited about this not just from an apprenticeship point of view but also in terms of going forward from a green point of view because we really do need to get going. And the other thing as well that signifies that Sizewell C and EDF are serious about this is that using terms like “climate emergency” on their website. Not being shy to use those words because we do need to get cracking on this kind of stuff and it’s just so it’s so lovely to hear that so many jobs and apprenticeships are coming online in this sector. So, thank you!

Rachel: Thank you, Kit, it’s been a pleasure!


Teachers and students – check out this interactive simulator which challenges you keep the lights on and go ‘net zero’ with the best energy mix: www.energymixer.uk/

Follow Sizewell C on Twitter at twitter.com/sizewellc

Working as an apprentice wind turbine technician

I’ll end this blog post with what may be a more stereotypical career in the green sector! Before I took over the Take Your Apprenticeship podcast, my ex-colleague Rupert got to interview Jordan Halliday, who is a Wind Turbine Technician for Siemans Gamesa.


If you have students, or know anyone interested in doing an apprenticeship and working in the energy sector in East Anglia then visit the brilliant East of England Energy Group website: www.eeegr.com/


Thank you! All my education work via the Geogramblings’ “Life Geographic” blog is done all in my spare time, at my own cost but is free for you to access and enjoy. If you can spare a few pence, I’d be delighted if you could show your thanks by ‘buying me a coffee.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

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