Degree apprenticeship – the employer view


Employers have led the process in co-designing, with ITPs, a degree apprenticeship being launched this year.  They’re enthusiastic about the benefits for their companies, industry as a whole, and learners.

Degree apprenticeships

Engineering e2e-funded research into degree apprenticeships – where employers hire full-time apprentices and support them to complete a degree which integrates coursework with industry-based projects – and collaboration with IPWEA NZ (Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia – New Zealand division) led to the pilot programme.
*See below to read about the background to this project.

Industry input

Developed in response to industry demand and co-designed by employers and ITPs (institutes of technology and polytechnics), the Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BEngTech) in Asset Management (AM) can be completed in three to five years.

“It’s something we’ve wanted for a long time”

“It’s a real coup,” says Priyani de Silva-Currie, Regional Leader – Central Region at Calibre Consulting and assessor for the New Zealand Diploma in Infrastructure Asset Management (NZDIAM), “that after all these years there is a New Zealand degree in infrastructure asset management”.

“It’s something we’ve wanted for a long time; over the last 20 years we’ve been promoting the need for a degree to employers.”

“It fits the model of where education is heading”

Robert Blakemore, Chief Advisor – Service Planning at Wellington Water, notes the degree provides a good opportunity for people employed in other fields, as well as school leavers. “It fits the model of where education is heading. People can’t rely on one qualification for life, education is a lot more dynamic now.

“The degree structure and flexibility open up the potential for more people from different demographics to enter the industry; for example, women or those who can’t afford traditional engineering education.   Hopefully, it will open the industry to a broader base of people than in the past.”

Providing assurance employees have the required skills

The new pathway into asset management will gradually increase the number of qualified people in the sector, and brings other benefits for employers involved in training apprentices.

“As employers we need assurance that young people who’ve completed a qualification have the ‘right fit,” says Vaughn Crowther, Director at Utility, “the right skills and attributes needed to work in a team. With this degree, we’ll know what skills a prospective employee will bring to the job, and that they’re the specific skills required for the business.”

“It’s almost an acceptance,” he adds, “that young people require two to three years on-the-job learning before they become of value to the business. The degree structure, where they’re actually working on the job and the curriculum is based on industry need, means they become more valuable much faster. By bringing education and industry closer together, you’re removing much of that additional investment in training.”

“Because they’re part of the learning process, employers have a greater understanding of their staff too. It can help you become a better manager in that you know how they’re doing and what you can do to help them become the best they can be.”

Encouraging people with other obligations

The Degree Apprenticeship Industry Reference Group (DAIRG), comprised of contractors, consultants and clients from across New Zealand, is clear that developing future asset managers is an important part of delivering reliable, affordable and sustainable infrastructure services throughout the country.

“The Degree apprenticeship will help meet this need by providing education and workplace experience,” says Jonathan Morris, DAIRG Chair, NZDIAM assessor and Chair of WSP Opus Water Asset Management Technical Discipline.

“The course structure is intended to support and encourage people whose other obligations might make it difficult to pursue more traditional degrees.”

“It will be a robust degree”

“We’re already deciding how modules might be learnt onsite,” says Priyani. "It will be a robust degree from the beginning, with guest lecturers like myself coming in to cover specific parts of the qualification. We will bring variety and life perspectives – we’re not academics but working in real life.”

Robert says the structure will allow consortia, such as the contracting partners, consultants and engineers in the wastewater industry, to work together. “It’s an opportunity to get together and coordinate training, so learners can rotate between groups and get a wider skill base.”

Promoting IAM career path

Priyani notes that the degree acts as branding for the infrastructure asset management industry. “And there are lots of people working in this space, which helps provide another level of credibility to the degree. It will require a full-on industry drive to get momentum, especially with ITPs and school leavers.”

Young people in the workforce attending presentations are enthusiastic, says Vaughn. “They’ve said ‘Why couldn’t I do this; why didn’t I have this option?’ It’s a no brainer, they can earn $30,000 per year and have a degree at the end with no student loan.”

Engineering New Zealand endorsement

Engineering New Zealand has accepted an amended curriculum proposal and is endorsing the engineering degree apprenticeship with an asset management pathway. When formal confirmation has been received from Engineering New Zealand, the degree will be considered by the BEngTech Management Group and then NZQA (New Zealand Qualifications Authority).

The BEngTech in Asset Management can be launched on completion of this formal process and will be offered at WelTec and Otago Polytechnic from the first semester in 2020.

*For more information about the background to this project, see these links:
See info sheet: Degree apprenticeships

See case study: A new employer-led engineering pathway (2018)
See case study: Fostering our Future (2017)
See report: A pilot study of the application of degree apprenticeships in New Zealand (2017)
See report: UK degree apprenticeships - a year in review (2016)
See report: Creating engineers - climbing the educational staircase (2015)

Our thanks to Priyani, Rob, Vaughn and Jonathan for their time and advice; if you have any queries please contact 

Image: IFME (International Federation of Municipal Engineers) board discussing Asset Management Committee Outcomes for 2019.
Photo courtesy of Priyani de Silva-Currie

June 2019