Building relationships


NorthTec's Secondary-Tertiary Pathways Project (STPP) programme is focusing on building relationships with schools and promoting the versatility of the New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE).

Raising awareness of the opportunities

Mirko Wojnowski, Project Lead – Educational Strategy, says the STPP team is focusing on building closer relationships with STEM teachers and careers advisors. They want to raise awareness of careers in engineering, promote careers events and lay the groundwork for a planned Year 13 course. This will be launched in 2018 and involve students doing study in the NZDE at NorthTec, including working on projects in partnership with industry.

All events and activities will highlight what engineering is all about and the great career opportunities – with the message emphasising the versatility of the NZDE and the advantages of studying locally: small classes; good opportunities for cadetships; and options to graduate directly into a job or staircase towards a Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BEngTech) or Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (BE (Hons). 

Improving teachers’ understanding

There is no formal PD component for teachers. Instead, the team is providing opportunities for teachers and careers advisors to gain an insight into engineering through industry visits. A group of Physics teachers visited Tui Technology last month and were interested to see how they apply physics in developing engineering and automation products. Electrical engineer Aaron Taitoko discussed who the company looks to employ and how they recruit engineers.

The visit was very successful. The teachers enjoyed talking to Aaron, and were keen to understand the overlap between what they teach at school and the NZDE.

Careers events

This year’s STPP programme includes careers events at NorthTec and visits to schools in other parts of Northland. These follow a similar pattern. Students work on an activity aimed at showing that engineering is about creative problem-solving –  most groups have developed bristlebots [robots made from a battery and toothbrush head] and competed in a robot challenge, with Year 12 students at one event developing rocket launchers.

After the activity, engineers give presentations and answer questions. They are generally Futureintech Ambassadors – early-career professionals who visit schools to discuss their pathways and roles, and show how what the students are learning in class relates to jobs in engineering.

The project team is looking to extend this format across the Northland region, building on a recent Year 10 event at NorthTec’s  Kaikohe campus.

Promoting diversity in engineering

With women, Māori and Pasifika underrepresented in engineering, the project team is keen to promote diversity. Mirko notes that of the students involved this year, approximately 55% are female and 50% Māori.

A recent careers event for Year 11-13 girls had a good turnout. The mostly-Year 12 students were interested to hear from female engineers about how they’d got into engineering, projects they’d worked on, the variety of roles, and opportunities to change direction. They provided an insight into a career some wouldn’t have previously considered, with one student commenting “I wanted a job in science but didn’t know where I wanted to go, so this has given me a lot to think about.”

Whangarei Girls’ High School Technology teacher Martin White says it was a very good event, particularly in showing how engineers solve ‘real life’ problems. “The students enjoyed listening to people who actually work in engineering – that was the most powerful part, they could relate to what the engineers had learnt at school and see how their studies led to legitimate jobs. They were also interested to find out about the different pathways.”

As well as informing and inspiring students with their stories, the engineers could put a pragmatic slant on subject choice. Margriet Geesnik from Northland District Heath Board told the group that while she didn’t like Physics that much at school, “I really value it in what I do now.”

Other presentations

The team has travelled to different schools as part of the Whangarei and Far North Careers Roadshow expos this year. Mirko, along with NorthTec lecturer Nigel Studdart and a Whangarei Boys’ High School teacher, will give a presentation about the STPP programme at the New Zealand Association of Maths Teachers conference later this year.

It’s always pleasing to find out that presentations do have an impact. Mirko spoke to 400 Kamo High School senior students during a lunchtime assembly, and was recognised by one at the supermarket checkout that afternoon. “She told me how interesting the presentation was”.

The team is also planning an Engineering Big Day Out and has talked to Careers NZ about doing this as a joint venture, possibly with other initiatives involved as well.

Student focus group

With various events taking place this year and planning underway for a Year 13 course, the team wanted to get an indication of what students believe they need in terms of learning about engineering and preparing for tertiary study. Mirko set up a focus group comprised of ten Year 13 students.

The group all agreed that they find Physics particularly challenging and would like more support on top of what they receive at school. In response, a mentoring group is being trialled this month where students can attend an afterschool session every week to get additional support and more information about how physics is applied in engineering.

Social media

Mirko has also set up a Facebook page Engineering NorthTec to inform students, teachers or parents about upcoming events or stories aimed at engaging them with engineering. He has also set up a profile on Youth Hub where students can follow the project and engineering at NorthTec.
Engineering NorthTec on Facebook
Youth Hub website

Our thanks to Mirko and Martin for their time and advice; if you have any queries please contact

June 2017