Meet the contractor: COMA/Wessex Water

If you live in the South West you’re probably already familiar with the name Wessex Water. They provide water and sewerage services to 2.8 million customers across Somerset, Dorset, Bristol, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Hampshire. Wessex Water is also involved in the Hinkley Point C project – providing utilities and construction services through the Construction Operations Maintenance Alliance (COMA).

Q. Tell us a bit about COMA and how it’s supporting Hinkley Point C

A. The Construction Operations Maintenance Alliance (COMA) is a partnering arrangement led by the Wessex Water Group. We bring together local contractors and suppliers from the south west to work on large infrastructure projects, such as Hinkley Point C.

The benefit of having one alliance is that we provide a single, sustainable, end-to-end solution for infrastructure projects. Ultimately, this saves money, reduces waste, and adds long-term value to local communities and the economy.

Q. How long has COMA been on site?

A. Wessex Water began working on site since November 2015, with some of our people seconded into the NNB (Nuclear New Build) site operations team at Hinkley Point C. It was in June 2017 that COMA came into being, when Wessex Water was awarded the contract for delivering construction utilities operations and maintenance team services at Hinkley Point C.

The contract scope covers the design, build, operation and maintenance of all temporary site utilities – including waste and surface water network, as well as all electrical supplies and sub stations outside of the main construction areas, until the reactors are commissioned in 2025 and beyond.

Q. What sort of services does COMA provide?

A. We deliver the following services on site:

  • Waste and water management: managing the waste and clean water networks
  • Asset management and permitting: ensuring adherence and acceptance of policy and procedures
  • Project delivery
  • Compliance and performance monitoring: operation and management of consented discharges and compliant sampling 
  • Electrical services: along with controlling all work on electrical apparatus

Understanding the lingo

Here’s an explanation of what some of these services look like on the ground:

The Dewatering Team ensures the excavation environment is safe to work within and that there is no detrimental impact on the wider environment. For instance, the Networks Team within this team operate and maintain over 10km of surface laid pipework, alongside 20 modular pump stations and over 70 pumped wells. These assets transport water out of the deep dig excavation to ensure the areas remain dry and safe to work within.

The Science Team sits within the Dewatering Team and is responsible for sampling and analysing the quality of the water discharged from the site to ensure it remains within the conditions set by the Environment Agency. The Slopes Team is responsible for constantly monitoring the stability of the various excavation faces to ensure they are safe, and works can continue. 

The Electrical, Mechanical and Instrumentation Team provide an in-house service to our treatment and dewatering teams. They are responsible for proactive planned maintenance and responding quickly to reactive breakdowns onsite at the sewage treatment centre and all the associated pumping stations on site.

Also, onsite we have an in-house team of Senior Authorised Persons (SAPS, for short). These are a high voltage electrical trained team who are responsible for switching, maintaining and energising the high voltage substations to supply the site with electricity. 

The Permit Team are responsible for overseeing contractors and making sure they follow procedures and adhere to their safe systems of work. They check their paperwork is correct and in place, which then enables them to carry out confined space entries, excavations, and hot works to name but a few of our services.

Q. Do you recruit apprentices? And, if so, in what type of roles?

A. We have office-based apprenticeships at Wessex Water and technical apprenticeships for COMA – which cover engineering and construction-based roles. 

Wessex Water also runs graduate schemes in a variety of areas too – such as engineering, quantity surveying, CAD design, and planning – which could involve working at Hinkley Point C.

Q. What are the benefits of working with Wessex Water and/or COMA?

A. Wessex Water is recognised as one of the Top 100 apprenticeship employers in the UK – and there are a wide range of opportunities here.

Working for COMA could give you access to work on a huge range of different projects, as we expand our portfolio. The scope of our work on site at Hinkley Point C, for example, has increased year on year.

COMA is truly a lovely company to work for. Everyone here is always very friendly and wants to help me learn and succeed, which helps me to be the best I can be.

Design Draughtsperson, COMA

Q. What skills and behaviours do you look for in young people?

A. For our technical apprenticeships, we want people who have strengths in STEM subjects, as they involve a mix of electrical and mechanical work. These are operational apprenticeships; they’re not desk jobs, but hands-on roles.

In terms of skills and behaviours, we’re looking for team players, but also individuals who are confident to get on with tasks. Hinkley Point C is a big project, so we need people who aren’t going to be overwhelmed by this, but responsible and respectful of the fact it’s a nuclear site. There are so many opportunities here – we want individuals who recognise this and are committed to performing at their best.

Q. What’s the recruitment process like?

A. We operate a unique approach to recruitment for apprenticeships. There’s no CVs or covering letters; just one application form. We think it’s much fairer because it levels the playing field for all applicants. 

Candidates who make it through the application stage are invited to a virtual assessment. We introduced these last year after the Covid-19 outbreak. During these sessions, we set them a series of challenges: like multiple choice questions, matching pairs or spot the hazard activities. From there, we’ll take forward successful candidates to a practical assessment, where they’ll meet other candidates and work together in a team to complete a task.

This is followed by ‘time to shine’ interviews, which, as the name suggests, is their chance to impress us! We’ll ask the usual sort of interview questions, but also throw in a few leftfield challenges – such as, ‘You’re given an elephant. You can’t sell it or give it away. What do you do with it?’ There isn’t a right or wrong answer; we just want to see how they react to the question! A lot of the work we do on site is about problem solving and responding to the unexpected. So we’re looking for candidates who can be creative and respond innovatively to challenges.

My manager is always on hand to help and answer any questions I have, and is always very focused on my progress to help push me in the right direction. Also, my colleagues are very friendly and approachable, which helps me to learn.

Design Draughtsperson, COMA

Q. What do you recommend candidates include on their application form?

A. The application form takes about 25 minutes to complete. And we want to hear about an individual’s values, motivations and what they’d bring to the organisation. It doesn’t matter if you never attended Scouts or played a musical instrument. Our aim is to identify people’s potential, rather than learn about the opportunities they’ve been gifted during their upbringing.

In the education section of the application form, we don’t ask for your full education history, but simply: ‘what did you achieve in Maths and English, and what’s your highest level of qualification?’ That’s it. We want to find out about an individual’s interests, so we’ll ask what your best subject was, and your favourite. And we’ll try to find out what type of role might suit you, by asking about the type of work environment you prefer.

Interested in working on the project?

Register with the HPC Jobs Service here, as they regularly list opportunities with Wessex Water and COMA. If you’re aged between 16-21 and not already signed up to our skills programme, Young HPC, you can register here and get exclusive access to employer events and training opportunities.

Find out more about technical apprenticeships at Wessex Water or register your interest about future opportunities. There’s also a recording of a webinar about the technical apprenticeship programme on YouTube.