What we’ve learnt: Part 2

What weve learnt2

The Secondary-Tertiary Pathways Project (STPP) provided an opportunity to trial different models for engaging school students with engineering. When the project ended last month, we asked project managers what had been learnt.

 Challenges and changes

ITPs (institutes of technology and polytechnics) involved in the STPP programme have developed and trialled initiatives aimed at engaging students and preparing them to enrol in and successfully complete tertiary engineering study – particularly the New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE) and Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BEngTech) programmes.

Last year, we talked to project managers about what had been learnt from the experience. They discussed the challenges of building relationships with schools and encouraging students to attend events, activities and courses, and the changes they’ve made as a result.

Read about it here:
Case study 83: What we've learnt: developing secondary-tertiary programmes   

Highlighting more effective strategies                       

STPP teams evaluated their programmes and made changes in response, in some cases dropping three-to-four terms courses in favour of short block courses.  (Wintec decided to finish its STPP programme early, in 2018).

Pete Wilson, Ara, says trialling and evaluating STPP initiatives was a great opportunity. “It highlighted the effective strategies, those most likely to be successful over time in achieving our goal of more NZDE and BEngTech enrolments.”

Growing relationships with schools

While establishing an ongoing connection with schools continues to be a challenge – particularly if a key contact teacher or careers advisor moves on – STPP teams have managed to grow relationships with local (and in some cases regional) schools.

However, any changes in school priorities or staffing can impact on student participation in secondary-tertiary programmes. Melissa Kay, WITT, says it's important to maintain a profile at each school. “Ongoing refresher courses – exposing teachers and careers advisors to engineering and alternative study pathways – are an important part of keeping schools engaged.”

A single model of engagement doesn’t suit all schools

John Findlay, Otago Polytechnic, notes that a single model of engagement doesn’t suit all schools. “So, we’ve explored models which can be adapted to suit individual schools. We’ve also found that the most effective way to get into schools is to develop resources to support topics that they’re already delivering.”

Offering study help to school students

Another challenge in recruiting school students for activities or courses is that many don’t know what’s involved in engineering or think they aren’t academic enough to study engineering. One of the strategies to encourage students to consider engineering is offering study help.

NorthTec introduced an in-school programme Pre-EMPT (Pre-Engineering Maths and Physics Tuition) as a means of supporting students studying STEM subjects towards engineering. Jac Mogey notes, “The more we can do to empower students to consider they have the capacity to do physics, the more likely they are to see the possibility of a career in engineering. Pre-Empt keeps them connected to their subjects and to engineering study and career pathways”

At Ara, Pete offered study help to Māori students taking maths and physics to increase the number of Māori attending STPP courses and/or enrolling to study engineering. Although there weren’t many participants last year, he will repeat it but in Term 3 when students are more likely to attend.

Exposing students to opportunities in industry

Knowledge in schools and the community around engineering study at ITPs often defaults to the trades. There is still a poor understanding of roles for NZDE and BEngTech graduates, and that students can gain an engineering diploma or degree at an ITP.

For all the STPP teams, establishing or growing relationships with local engineering industries was important – visiting workplaces or hearing from people working in engineering roles gives students a much better idea of what they could do with an engineering qualification.

Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult, given the shortage of NZDE and BEngTech-qualified engineers, to find people who are working in these roles and available to talk to students about what they do and the opportunities these qualifications provide.

Identifying champions within industry

STPP project managers have therefore put time into creating links with engineering firms; discussing the purpose behind the project and the ITP pathways into engineering.

“One answer is identifying champions within industry,” John says, “and using them to assist in spreading the word. We’ve worked with local cluster group Engineering Dunedin, for example, and I’m now a representative on the Dunedin Branch of Engineering New Zealand.”

We need to work across STEM subjects

Another challenge in raising awareness of engineering is that teacher associations are based on distinct subjects – Technology, Maths and Science for example – whereas engineering reaches across all of these. “We need something based on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths),” says John. “or even, as our prime minister recently stated, STEAM (incorporating artistic endeavour as well – I see this as an opportunity.”

Pete notes that reaching out to school Technology departments has resulted in a high level of teacher interest, which he hopes will lead to more Technology students being exposed to engineering through the STPP programmes.

Delivering engineering courses at senior level is often too late

 A common challenge in running activities and courses is the difficulty in recruiting senior students or getting full numbers only to find that most have already decided on university study.

 In looking to the future, Pete says that Ara needs to interact with younger school students – those who won’t be enrolling in one of the secondary school programmes for several years – so that they’re aware of and enthusiastic about engineering when they do get to that stage.

At Unitec, Robyn Gandell notes another difficulty with reaching senior students – in this case girls. “We get a good number of junior girls but a significant drop at senior level. Many of the senior girls in our local schools opt to participate in health academies. We need to educate and inspire them about engineering before they have to make those choices.” 

Our thanks to John, Melissa, Pete, Robyn and Jac for their help and advice; if you have any queries please contact 

March 2019