Industry Advisory Groups: a collaborative approach to engineering


For two spheres which are so closely related, the institutions people study at and the places of work they move on to can seem worlds apart. But when industry and tertiary education organisations (TEOs) work together the benefits for everyone are obvious. Students learn the right skills and get good jobs. The TEOs provide up-to-date, quality courses. Employers can hire workers with the skills they’re looking for. Our communities are better off.

In the engineering sector, Industry Advisory Groups (IAGs) are proving a good way for employers, schools and ITPs to collaborate. We heard from Dr Mark Ewen (Business Director, Trades and Primary Industries, NorthTec), Shelley Wilson (Director of the Centre for Engineering and Industrial Design, Wintec) and Graham Carson (Head of the School of Engineering, WelTec) about how their Industry Advisory Groups work, and the benefits they’re seeing.

What are these Industry Advisory Groups and what do they do?
The IAGs are made up of local engineering firms, representatives from the ITP and other organisations in the sector. Every IAG operates a little differently. Mark Ewen says NorthTec’s Civil Engineering IAG is largely industry-led, and works closely with the local IPENZ branch. Wintec has a different IAG for each engineering discipline, Shelley Wilson explains. Each of the ITPs actively encourages anyone in the sector who wants to get involved – WelTec’s IAG has members from firms such as BECA and Fulton Hogan, Victoria University’s Robinson Research Institute, the New Zealand Defence Force and the global Institute of Engineering Technologists, to name but a few.

Communication between ITPs and industry happens continually, but the IAGs provide an active, formal avenue for collaboration. Some meet once a year, other more regularly. Here’s what they get up to:

  • They inform supply and demand. The ITPs really value knowing the latest industry trends, what job prospects are like, and about the engineering work going on in their area. Mark Ewen says, “With civil engineering firms updating our cadets on roading developments, for example, we can change the content of our lectures to teach about roading conditions in Northland specifically.” This helps students understand the connection between what they learn and what’s happening out in their community.
  • Industry provides advice on the content and delivery of ITP courses. Are the courses relevant? Are they delivering graduates with the skills industry needs? Graham Carson says this industry perspective helps them to keep WelTec’s delivery focused.
  • They enable collaboration on opportunities for students, from school trips to cadetships.

What are the benefits?
“Our group is highly successful because it is a unified team of people with diverse key skills, who share a common vision for better outcomes for engineering and its teaching in Northland”, Mark Ewen tells us. This sentiment is echoed across the board – each ITP noted the dedication of everyone involved and their passion for improving engineering. The IAGs are a great way to bring this enthusiasm together, ensuring joint responsibility for improving the education-to-employment pathway. They also tap into and build networks across each region. Nowadays at NorthTec, for example, all but two of the civil engineering tutors are permanently employed in the industry.

Are there any challenges?
“The group is most effective when there is a clear objective and focus”, advises Shelley. Without this, you can lose momentum. Diversity is another challenge across the groups. Both Shelley and Graham think the IAGs would be improved with more members from a broad range of areas – particularly from schools. WelTec has asked a local technology teacher, who is also a member of TESAC (Technology Education Subject Associations Coalition), to join their committee. Graham believes there should be maths and science teachers on the IAGs as well, because one of the biggest issues is students coming out of school unprepared for engineering study. If schools and teachers get involved, the transition from secondary school to ITO or ITP can be better for students.

This all sounds great, but where do we start?
The resounding message: be proactive. Your first step is to target a broad range of stakeholders, and approach people personally and positively.

Any other advice?
Here are some more tips:

  • Keep looking to widen your membership.
  • Keep the communication going and always look to improve it.
  • Raise your profile through marketing, and advertise widely in schools.
  • Get kids involved in cadet programmes, IPENZ and other opportunities. This will also help bring your stakeholders together.

If you have any questions, or are interested in setting up an advisory group, get in touch and we can help you out. Email Another good place to start could be to contact your local Engineering New Zealand branch.

Huge thanks to Shelley Wilson, Graham Carson and Mark Ewen for their time and advice.

March 2015