How Did You Get Into Nuclear? - I was sports mad

Kieron Hersnip

Early Careers Advisor

National Nuclear Laboratory

I'm Wigan, born and bred and still live in Wigan, which I'm very proud of. At school, I was madly obsessed with sports, any sport. I was pretty quiet. I was never the most academic of students, usually because I was daydreaming about sport, whether it was playing sports or something I'd seen at the weekend. I was always very well behaved, never any problems on that side of things. I just used the school as a great outlet for all the wide range of sports I could partake in and play.


Rugby was always my passion since my first training session at five years of age, but I'm also a keen football fan. I also played with the cricket team, which is always an enjoyable experience, and I enjoy playing golf. So any sport I'd get involved with, and my parents were forever picking me up in the evenings because I was getting involved with as many things as I possibly could that usually involved a ball.

The school I went to was a sporting school. It was very much a rugby league orientated school. There was a little bit of tug of war sometimes between my sports teachers and my other teachers because I was playing with rugby league as sometimes there were conflicts with my time taking a class. So I had a sports teacher called Mr Burchall, who always had my back when those type of things happened, we used to call him Mr B. So Mr B was always the person that had it stick up for me and look after me in those aspects of things.

I didn't realise you could make a living from doing something that you enjoyed like that. So when that soon clicks that yeah, you can get paid for doing this. It was like, right. Let's go for that, and let's see where it gets me. I signed a professional contract for Salford City Reds at 15 years of age, and there was no going back.

Professional Rugby League Player

As I walked into the club into the changing rooms and there were many of my childhood heroes I'd grown up watching and collecting stickers for my sticker albums. Now they were living and breathing in front of me. I had to go and put a pair of boots on and run on the same pitch as these guys. For the first three to four years of my professional career, it felt like I was a fan who was intruded on these training sessions.

I took from my time playing professional rugby league because of the required dedication, and it really did set me up for life because watching these people, you automatically think when you're younger, that it just comes to them. It's natural, but when you get to see its background, the diets that they go through, the extra training and they put themselves through, besides what they have to do with the club, how dedicated ambassadors outside of the rugby field as well. Once I got to the kind of experience, it brought home to me just what type of qualities and values are needed in any profession, not just sports.

It's not just about natural ability. I mean, that helps. Still, it's the hours and the dedication and the discipline that you put in to actually develop and to get as far as you possibly can, whatever the arena is. It was humbling for me. It isn't just how much they put into themselves but how much they put back into young people. They were sitting down with those people, and they were advising the younger members of the team and providing that kind of guidance. Hopefully, it installed in me that this will be happening to me one day, and I'll be providing that advice and guidance to a young person. I didn't realise that that's active direction would be standing with me for the rest of my career outside of rugby league.

Playing with rugby league was something I've always dreamed of. I saw myself retiring at 36. That didn't work. I had a severe injury, plus the fact that I felt that I'd reached my limit with playing professional rugby league. I found myself playing in lower divisions as a professional, and it was pretty tough to try and comprehend that I wasn't good enough anymore to play at a top-level. That was a significant chapter in my life, and it was a tough decision to retire, and I struggled for a while. It was an uphill battle because you're identified as a rugby player living in a town where I felt almost embarrassed when people asked me, are you still playing? And then you've got to tell them, "no".

The light bulb moment

Then I had to consider trying to search for something that I can turn into a career. I couldn't help but forget how I was treated at the beginning of my career and how people took me under their wing when I was a young professional rugby player. That kept resonating with me, and helping young people is something that I enjoy doing.

Then, as these things tend to do, an opportunity came with working at a younger offenders unit working with people who had committed serious crimes at a young age. The young people were just a phase in their lives where they were getting ready to be released into the world. They needed support with living arrangements, looking after themselves and finding employment. It really brought me back down to earth, but it really helped me realise that there's a cycle out there, and people aren't born bad. Things have happened to those people and for them to do the things that they've done. When I got to learn that, and I got to understand the process of certain things and help young people, I just became obsessed with it. Something just clicked, and I realised I had found my calling. I had gone from not knowing which direction to take my life into thinking that I've nailed it here. When that clicked, I decided to explore as much as I possibly can. It was an excellent humbling experience working at the young offenders unit.

National Nuclear Laboratory

Fast forward to today, my job role is as a careers advisor at the National Nuclear Laboratory. I look after all the early careers programs that NNL have, from the apprenticeship scheme, the graduate scheme and the work experience scheme. I also support the post-doctorate scheme. Much of my role is to oversee those schemes and provide individual one-to-one support with our early-career programme employees. This is something that I enjoy doing whilst working at NNL. It is raising awareness about NNL and the UK nuclear industry. I enjoy going to things such as careers fairs, which are now virtual because of the current pandemic we're going through.

As part of my role, I have the opportunity to start new initiatives. I'm trying to set up something when I'm going into different schools and providing general awareness of the UK nuclear industry and NNL. I never thought I'd find myself working in the nuclear industry. If the 16-year-old me could see myself now, I'd completely laugh at how crazy this is, and You never know how the stars will align.

Coming into NNL has been a real eye-opener for me. It has made me realise just how unique the nuclear industry is. I'm developing quite the passion, trying to find out as much as I can about the nuclear industry. My wife keeps telling me to "have a day off" because I keep mentioning NNL, what we're doing and the nuclear industry itself.

The Future

I plan to continue to work with the National Nuclear Laboratory, and I've embraced the values and behaviours of what we do at NNL. I feel like I did when I turned professional rugby player. So many people have taken me under their wing since I arrived. The nuclear industry was something that I'd never been experienced before, so it feels like I'm starting over again, but anyone I've reached out to has been amazing. So I do firmly hope that I'm still within NNL. I enjoy more one-to-one support individual aspects of my job role.

I want to continue to take my influence in the industry further as I think that I can make a big difference in many people's career paths. We can work together on a call, and I can give advice and guidance, but it is also vital that I continue to spread the word of NNL and the UK nuclear industry. I'm very passionate about going into schools in areas that are not necessarily more likely to encounter work, such as that found in the nuclear industry. So, more focus on underprivileged areas and working with people who don't necessarily get their education from a mainstream school or mainstream college. I picture myself as a young person. If somebody visited my school and spoke to me about the nuclear industry, I would have definitely sat up and listened. If we can get that seed as early as possible, stay with us for the future because this industry is such a fascinating, exciting industry. Hopefully, we can get our message across to some more young people in the future.

The above, with kind permission, is based on a conversation between Dr Andrew Sherry and Kieron Hersnip on the podcast - Are We Nearly There Yet? There are numerous inspirational career stories as part of this podcast. You can check them out here;

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