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Out of the shadows: the Atomic Weapons Establishment, one of the UK's leading employers of engineers, talks candidly for the first time about its recruitment activities.

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It's rare for the Atomic Weapons Establishment to go public on its recruitment activities. But when you employ almost 6,000 people, many of them highly-skilled scientists and engineers with decades of experience, there is an ongoing requirement to ensure the smooth introduction of new talent into the organisation.

Greg McNally, manager of the engineering graduate development programme, says there is a wealth of opportunities on offer to budding engineers at AWE's main facilities in Aldermaston, Berkshire. He thinks the importance of AWE's role, providing and maintaining the warheads for the country's Trident nuclear deterrent, means the organisation can provide some unique working experiences.

"Around a third of our 6,000 employees are engineers, across a range of disciplines including mechanical, electrical, chemical and civil," he says. "They are fully involved in the design and manufacture of the nuclear deterrent, but also carry out research and are increasingly moving into management and leadership roles within the business.

"Our staff tend to be very loyal --we don't get as much churn as other organisations. Job satisfaction is a major part of that, as a lot of what we do is extremely interesting. It takes a long while for people to fully understand what we do here. We cannot go out into the market and bring in off the shelf the knowledge we want. We have to grow our own people. That growth leads to loyalty in return."

AWE has an active graduate recruitment programme and has links with five universities: Heriot-Watt, Bristol, Cranfield, Imperial College London and Cambridge. It uses these places of academic excellence to carry out unclassified research, and sometimes sends its own employees into the universities to use equipment. That's not to say that graduates only come from these institutions: the net is cast wide to meet recruitment targets.

Recruitment at AWE takes place all year round, mainly because the security clearance process can take more than three months, and this can begin while students finish their studies. To work at AWE, most employees must hold the highest level of security clearance provided by the Ministry of Defence. The criteria for what's known as 'developed vetting' security clearance include the requirement for candidates to have resided in the UK for 10 years before employment.

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In terms of the graduate programme itself, AWE provides varied training which sees youngsters employed across the business. "When a graduate comes in they are brought into a pool--they are not allocated a specific post from the outset," he says. "They will learn about the company and how we operate. They move around the business on different placements. We tailor their routes depending on their interests and abilities.

"Our aim is to spend two years developing these young engineers so that we can place them into the appropriately sized holes when we have finished. We don't want square pegs in round holes--that wouldn't suit the graduates, or the business."

Professional development is key. AWE's professional development programme is accredited by seven organisations including the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Engineering and Technology. McNally says AWE is committed to seeing that its engineers are able to continually build their skills and knowledge, ultimately with a view to achieving professional registration.

McNally also acts as head of profession for mechanical engineers within the organisation, and provides senior ambassadorship for the professional development programme. He thinks professional development is vital, both for graduates and AWE.

He says: "When graduates join us they are allocated a mentor--a professional engineer. Then we have a structured system of regular developmental reporting. That carries until the developing engineer attains professional registration. Above the mentors are senior mentors and then the heads of the professions. We all meet on a regular basis to discuss progress."

Once professional registration is achieved, McNally says there is ample scope for long-term career development. He says AWE is a worldwide centre of excellence for science, engineering and technology, offering plenty of scope for different roles throughout a long and varied career.

"I am on my seventh career here at AWE," he says, "having worked in roles as diverse as quality and training. The company has always educated me. It's a fascinating place which offers true diversity."

Some of AWE's facilities--such as the recently built multi-million pound Orion laser, which is used for research into high-energy density physics phenomena, which occur at the heart of a nuclear explosion--are among the best of their kind in the world. The facility houses a large neodymium glass laser system and a target chamber in which the physics experiments are conducted. The laser can generate matter many times denser than solid--at temperatures up to 10 million degrees. Orion gives scientists and engineers the opportunity to study densities and temperatures found nowhere else on earth.

The construction of the Orion facility exemplifies the level of investment that has taken place within the organisation in recent years. The laser is so advanced that other research organisations use it to carry out their own studies. Indeed, collaboration with industry, and with other similar organisations across the world, is positively encouraged.

"We don't live on our own here at AWE. We simply couldn't do that in today's world," adds McNally.

The home of Trident

The Atomic Weapons Establishment maintains the warheads for Trident, the UK's continuous-at-sea submarine-launched ballistic-missile defence system. Trident II D5, currently in service, is supplied by Lockheed Martin. It is a three-stage, solid-fuel missile, 13m long, more than 2m in diameter and weighing more than 60 tonnes. Each missile can carry up to 12 nuclear warheads and each Vanguard-class submarine can carry up to 16 missiles.

The missiles are held in vertical tubes in the midsection of the submarine and are fired from beneath the surface. Each missile is independently controlled by the submarine. Precise data concerning target location is fed to the missile by the sub's strategic weapons system computers, together with information on the vessel's position, course and speed.

A missile is ejected from the submarine by high-pressure gas and only when it breaks the surface does the first rocket stage actually fire. Then the missile's own inertial guidance system takes over, calculating flight behaviour and guiding it to a predetermined point in space.

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Title Annotation:TRAINING AND RECRUITMENT
Author:Hibbert, Lee
Publication:Professional Engineering Magazine
Date:May 1, 2014
Words:1043
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