Informing the public about engineering


A local project can make a great springboard to inform the public about engineering. We look at how the Well-Connected Alliance (WCA) publicised the engineering involved in the Waterview Connection project, and consider how other employers could do something similar.

When engaging with the local community about a project – What is being constructed? Why? How? What are the challenges, the solutions? Will it affect me? – informing people about engineering naturally falls out of any discussion. From there, it’s a short step to talking about careers and opportunities in engineering.

If you are enthusiastic about promoting careers in engineering – whether from the immediate need to recruit staff or as a contribution to renewal of the profession – keep reading. While the large scale of the WCA’s community interaction could be daunting, there is scope to do something similar, albeit much smaller.

The Waterview Connection Project

The Waterview Connection, New Zealand’s largest roading project, will provide a direct route from Auckland City to the airport, half of it underground. It is being delivered for the NZ Transport Agency by the Well-Connected Alliance (WCA), a consortium of NZ Transport Agency and six partners – Fletcher Construction, McConnell Dowell Constructors, Beca Infrastructure, Tonkin & Taylor, Parsons Brinkerhoff and Obayashi Corporations, along with their sub-alliance partner Wilson Tunnelling.

Right from the start, locals were told what was going on and how it would affect them. The Connection is right in the middle of Auckland so directly impacts on residents from Mt Roskill, New Windsor, Waterview and Point Chevalier.

Getting the locals on side

WCA places a high priority on building a successful relationship with the local community, making sure people are well informed in advance of and during each stage of construction. The public has opportunities to ask questions, discuss issues and visit drop-in information centres. A community liaison group, representing various community groups, meets regularly.

Opportunities for engineering students

With the Connection running alongside Unitec’s Mt Albert campus, there were opportunities for engineering students to be involved. Fletcher Construction, for example, hired and trained 10 students in the job of precision monitoring for ground surface movement before, during and after Alice passes by.

If you’re interested in making links with your local polytechnic, institute of technology (ITP) or university, get in touch with them.  Industry/tertiary relationships include providing access to your project for students – on-site experience adds value to the theory they’re learning in the classroom; offering work experience, even if you can only take on one student at a time; and partnering with an ITP to provide industry input into their programme development.

Engaging with schools

WCA met with local schools to discuss what the project involved and how it would affect them. This led on to talking with students and running focus groups, where students could help design new features such as a playground, skate park and BMX track. The star of the project – Alice, the massive tunnel boring machine – was named following a competition for Auckland primary school students. 500 entries were submitted and the wider public invited to vote for the name, resulting in a lot of additional publicity about the project.

Some WCA staff are involved in visiting schools as Futureintech Ambassadors – talking to students about engineering, their jobs on the project, and what led them into an engineering career. In addition to showing students the relevance of the subjects they  are studying, the Ambassadors highlight a career that many aren’t aware of and hopefully inspire some to consider engineering in the future. The Ambassador who took road-building materials and got the students to build a road will certainly be remembered!

Other initiatives, still in the planning stage, will involve using the project to encourage secondary school students into engineering.
Read about the Waterview Connection Project

We know that students take more notice when people who actually work in the industry talk to them about engineering careers. Your company could be involved in schools – whether it’s explaining to young primary students what an engineer does, catching senior secondary students still deciding on their future career or mentoring students involved in a technology project.

If you already have strong links with a teacher or careers adviser, then you might decide to approach your local school directly. However, with everyone involved having busy schedules it can sometimes be a bit tricky trying to build that relationship. We suggest contacting Futureintech to discuss how you could participate in their programme of school visits.

Virtual field trips

Students around the country are also able to learn about the Waterview Connection through a LEARNZ virtual field trip.  Using videoconferencing facilities, schools join an online tour of the site, during which students can ask questions. The LEARNZ website includes resources such as profiles of engineers involved in the project. Four LEARNZ trips to the Waterview Connection are planned, from 2014 to 2017.
Read about the LEARNZ virtual field trip

Producing materials about engineering

WCA has produced an extensive range of materials which detail the engineering aspects of the project. The project webpage on the Transport Agency’s website is regularly updated and includes progress reports, newsletters, community liaison, maps and photos – the time-lapse videos are pretty cool!

Various printed publications complement the website. The posters, booklets, information sheets and update materials include information and diagrams about aspects of the project. WCA is also active on social media, sharing information via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Engineering e2e suggests that anybody producing resources for students should carefully consider their intended audience. Providing school student-friendly material involves assessing the age/reading level of the students it will be given to.

Get publicity for your efforts

If you’re involved in any sort of careers promotion activity, share it with a wider audience. Contact your local newspaper and tell them about, for example, the students from a school/polytech/university who visited your site as part of your commitment to help students/teachers learn more about the engineering profession.

Our thanks to Ewart for his time and advice. If you would like to know more, contact us on

April 2015