Cadetships - an answer to NZ’s skills shortage? - Engineering e2e

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Cadetships - an answer to NZ’s skills shortage?

The first civil engineering cadet scheme was started by the Public Works Department in 1894. The cadetship scheme eventually involved 300 to 400 cadets per year throughout the public sector. It collapsed in the late 1980s following international economic upheaval and political changes, such as the restructuring of government departments, for example, the Ministry of  Works and Development. 

Cadetships – a history
The first civil engineering cadet scheme was started by the Public Works Department in 1894. The cadetship scheme eventually involved 300 to 400 cadets per year throughout the public sector. It collapsed in the late 1980s following international economic upheaval and political changes, such as the restructuring of government departments, for example, the Ministry of  Works and Development. This, in turn, led to few people studying towards a New Zealand Certificate in Engineering (NZCE) and the consequent decline in delivery of the course until eventually there were no ITPs offering it. Fast-forward to 2011, and the the New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE) is offered for the first time, replacing the old NZCE.  The Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BengTech) was introduced as an alternative pathway into engineering in the early 2000s.

Reviving the cadetship scheme
With the economy picking up in the early 1990s, New Zealand companies were often struggling to get people with engineering qualifications, especially in the area previously filled by NZCE graduates. Companies which still had NZCE-qualified staff  found their charge-out rates increasing to cover the costs of having only older, experienced workers – and this, of course, impacted on winning jobs in a competitive market.  This gap in the workforce also led to Bachelor of Engineering graduates doing work more suited to Diploma and BEngTech graduates. And the general shortage of engineers in New Zealand at the time meant companies were often recruiting highly qualified engineers from overseas to help fill the gap. At the end of the decade, Opus decided that it was time to revive the cadetship scheme that had previously worked so well.

An experiment
In 2000, Jim Muir of Opus trialled a cadetship scheme in Pukekohe with two cadets. It was, says Jim, a failure. The cadets struggled with distance learning and the lack of suitable course material, and had only each other for peer support and peer pressure; both subsequently left engineering.  However, those involved in setting up the experiment had learnt a lot, expecially that a cadetship scheme wouldn’t work on such a small scale. A lot of reviewing and planning went into the next cadetship programme which started in 2005 with 25 cadets from throughout New Zealand. This proved successful and, with a bit of tweaking, the scheme continued with a new intake in 2006 and beyond. Opus cadets are now able to study towards the NZDE and gain the experience they need to attain a New Zealand Diploma in Engineering Practice (NZDEP), Certified Engineering Technician (CerETn) or Associate Membership of IPENZ (AIPENZ), and some follow on with a BengTech or BE.

Cadetships – 2014
More engineering companies have set up cadetship schemes over the last decade. In 2014, they include AECOM, Aurecon, Beca, Downer, Fulton Hogan, Higgins, MWH, Opus and Windsor Engineering. The schemes vary, but usually a company supports an employee to study towards a diploma or degree while working. This generally includes full pay, with time off to study and attend the requisite courses. Cadets might be bonded for one or two years after graduating. Occasionally, a company might offer a short-term cadetship to give students industry experience while they complete their qualification.

What’s in it for the cadet?
The obvious advantage, for both school leavers and those already in the workforce, is that they’re earning while studying and aren’t faced with paying back a student loan when they complete their studies. As well as getting work experience relevant to their qualification, cadets can directly see the point of the knowledge and skills they’re picking up in their course and apply it to their work. Cadets are usually mentored in their workplace which provides encouragement for them to perservere with their study and remain in the industry.

And what do employers get out of the deal?
Cadetships are a great recruitment tool for a company. They are also cost-effective, with young, junior staff being a cheaper resource. Another advantage, Jim notes, is that it has provided a healthier age profile for the company with consequent benefits. “Young people become capable very quickly in aspects such as draughting and Autocad. They like technology, they’ve grown up with it – we run an induction course where our cadets learn Autocad in three days and then they’re away.” While their cadets are learning the knowledge and skills taught by the course provider, companies complement this with training them in specific skills or processes required in their business.

Retaining experienced staff
Businesses contemplating cadetships may well have concerns about the time and expense involved in training young staff only to see them move on to other companies. In practice however, cadetships appear to work successfully as a way of retaining staff. Jim comments,  “We’ve still got about 70% of our cadets; some have moved to other companies. Of the 284 cadets we’ve employed, about 90%, if not more, are still in the engineering profession. Twenty nine of those we’ve retained have gone on to higher qualifications, such as Bachelor of Engineering Technology, Bachelor of Enginering and Bachelor of Surveying.”

Thinking of starting a cadetship scheme?
With school students more aware of the opportunities in taking up a cadetship, and the NZDE and BEngTech established as pathways into an engineering career (and internationally recognised through the respective Dublin and Sydney Accords), now is a good time to consider establishing a cadet programme. On looking back at their first efforts, Jim sums up Opus’s successful cadetship programme,  “Our scheme is tried and true – we’ve improved it every year and are now at the stage where we don’t need to change it. It wasn’t hard bringing back cadetships because lots of our older staff had come through cadetships with the Ministry of Works or orther organisations and remembered how successful their scheme was.”

October 2014
 

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