Fostering our Future


New Zealand's public works sector faces an unprecedented skills shortage over the next ten years. In response, the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (IPWEA) New Zealand is working closely with the tertiary education sector on a pilot sponsored degree programme and connecting with initiatives which promote STEM careers to school students.

Public works profession

People working in the public works sector are generally employed by local or central government. The public works profession employs engineers with a New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE), Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BEngTech) or Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (BE Hons) and scientists.

The challenges

The public works profession is struggling to attract and retain skilled people. One in three public works professionals are due to retire within the next 15 years (one in two in regional areas).

Over $100billion of infrastructure investment is scheduled throughout the country over the next ten years, with around 90% to be spent on public works infrastructure. In a sector already struggling to attract and retain graduates, future demand for public works engineers could result in a critical skills shortage.

The profile for public works engineering is not high. Many school students don’t know anything about careers in engineering, let alone the specialist areas they could potentially work in. Graduates who might be interested in this sector often don’t realise the diversity of work which would allow them to extend their skills.

Fostering our Future

IPWEA NZ has taken the initiative to tackle these challenges and established Fostering our Future – a project to investigate the issues around attracting and retaining people, improving the pathway to enter the public works profession, and providing more career diversity for those working in the sector.

Understanding the student perspective

As part of the research for this project, IPWEA NZ now attends the Canterbury University careers fair each year. Their mission: to collectively represent members and attract students and graduates into the profession.

“It has been an overwhelming success,” they report. “What became evident is how little about our sector is known……almost disbelief at the diversity and scale of the work that local government commands.”  

Key learnings from these visits have informed the Fostering our Future project.

Expanding engineering pathways

IPWEA and Engineering e2e recently signed a memorandum of understanding to support each other’s initiatives to address engineering shortages.

IPWEA is collaborating with Engineering e2e on a pilot sponsored degree (degree apprenticeship). The pilot is funded by   the Tertiary Education Commission and designed by employers and institutes of technology and polytechnics. It aims to fill a skills gap in asset management, and students are likely to complete a BEngTech.

Ten public works employers have been involved in developing a standard for the degree – they were interviewed about what they wanted for the degree, worked out details for the proposed standard in a workshop, and will decide exactly what the curriculum should include during a workshop this month.
Read the report: Stepping into one another's world
Read the report: UK degree apprenticeships - a year in review

Developing a graduate programme

Fostering our Future is also aiming to deliver a graduate development programme for the public works sector. “It’s still at the planning stage,” says Vaughn Crowther, infrastructure advisor at Rationale, “but it is likely to involve graduates having work placements with two to four employers over a year, getting experience in councils, contracting firms and/or consultancies.”

“This will give them a taste of the opportunities available to them and the variety of work available.”

Working with existing career promotion initiatives

Promoting careers in the public works profession to school students is another key issue. Aware of the good work being done by existing initiatives, the project team is keen to collaborate rather than duplicate these efforts.

“We want to train local school leavers and keep them in the region.” Vaughn says. “These career opportunities would be a very effective way to help those communities challenged with the shift of people towards larger urban areas.”

Getting into schools to promote careers can be difficult, so IPWEA plans to work with Futureintech which makes links between industry and education. It will encourage members to get involved as Futureintech Ambassadors – early-career professionals receive online training and support from Facilitators, who organise their visits to schools. Ambassadors talk about their roles and show students how what they’re learning in class relates to careers in technology, engineering or science.

IPWEA website
Make the World website

Our thanks to Vaughn for his time and advice; if you have any queries please contact

June 2017