“I’ve been offered the opportunity to move on to several positions”

"I've been offered the opportunity to move on to several positions"

20 May 2020
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Between France and the UK, Nicholas Morris is currently experiencing the daily challenge of developing Assystem’s business around the British EPR project, Hinkley Point C. “Fascinating” according to him.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

I’m 31 years old. I was born in the Netherlands to two British parents who travelled a lot for their work. I then lived and studied in England. I obtained a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Sheffield, before studying at the INSA in Lyon. I then fell completely in love with France and started working there in 2011 as an expatriate in the nuclear engineering design office for EDF’s UK subsidiary.  In 2016, I was hired by Assystem. I have had three main roles there since then. I was project manager to support the English Hinkley Point C (HPC) project, then, in 2017, I became project manager for the Small Modular Reactor (SMR), an in-house innovation project. I was able to build a dedicated team with which I delivered a joint report to France and the UK at the World Nuclear Exhibition in June 2018. I was then appointed Sales Manager for the HPC project, a role I still hold today.

Can you describe your objectives?

The aim is to develop Assystem’s business in England and for the HPC project in particular. We started from scratch when I took the job. One day I will meet a new potential client, another I do recruitment. Working on business development requires versatility.

What do you like most about your job?

The challenge! In the beginning, there were two of us managing the business for the HPC project locally and today there are 50. We are like a start-up in a growth phase. We have to ask ourselves the right questions, consolidate our current team, our finances, as well as manage recruitment and our future development. It’s fascinating and I feel that I can also grow and develop, both personally and professionally.

What makes being an engineer at Assystem a unique experience?

Taking part in very varied and innovative projects. After working on the SMR, today I am closely following the evolution of the HPC project, while working on the development of an expert team on site. There are 50 of us and we expect to be 80 at the end of the year. Living this experience is not a given in every company.

What skills are required for your position and more generally for the project you are working on?

A knowledge of the country’s challenges, the project operators, good interpersonal skills, an open-mindedness and, of course, the ability to bring Assystem’s expertise in nuclear matters to bear. Finally, as a Franco-British, I must also be a “metaphorical bridge” between the two Assystem entities. The fact that I have been immersed in an international culture since my birth is, I think, an asset.

Is there anything you need to know before going to the UK?

Even though we are neighbours, we obviously have some differences. For example, we eat there earlier and more quickly. The English rarely work beyond the 9am-5pm slot because they stop for 20 minutes at noon. In terms of skills, I would say that French engineers are better at tackling a technical problem. On the other hand, the English are often more autonomous and proactive, because the country’s academic careers are built around project-based work. But this is nothing insurmountable. On the contrary, our differences allow each of us to learn from the other.

Do you have an anecdote to tell us?

Having lived a third of my life in France, and now sharing my daily life between the two countries, I realised that I had adopted some more Mediterranean traits. For example, I express myself more clearly, directly and succinctly than an Englishman who says he agrees when in fact he doesn’t. It’s quite funny because it shows how much the situations in which we live and evolve with influence us.

What advice would you give to an engineer who wants to move to the UK?

The HPC project will continue for several more years. A second nuclear phase with Sizewell C will be launched in the near future. There are a lot of career opportunities for engineers. Within Assystem, they will really be able to develop their careers by working in two or three positions over five or six years. My only advice would be to seize the opportunities offered by the fine projects currently underway and still to come, as well as being open to the idea of questioning the way we are used to doing engineering. These are multi-partner projects and we should always look to question, to better respond to nuclear safety issues, and come out stronger from each experience.

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