INDUSTRY LINKS CASE STUDY
An engineering colleague 'stumbling across' a Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BEngTech) student led Don Thomson Consulting Engineers to consider the qualification for the first time – and then employ three BEngTech graduates.
Marlo Bromley, a director at the Wellington-based civil engineering practice, said that employing a BEngTech student part time had worked so well for their colleague that Don Thomson Consulting Engineers decided to interview other final-year students in the same Weltec class.
“So we interviewed three – the three we have now – and we thought these guys seem great,” said Marlo. “We looked at their exam papers to see what they had learnt and from that we decided to hire two of them.
“And then while the two of them were working as students part-time twice a week, we realised they were so good that we squeezed in the third one as well.”
Marlo said it was clear they had learnt all the technical design curriculum that was needed to start working as a commercial structural engineer – as graduates they were work-ready.
Adam Webber, one of the graduates, agrees, saying he felt fully prepared to come into the workforce.
“On my first day, even though it was only part-time, the very first job I worked on was a scaffold at Wellington Airport. It was scaffolding with a shrink wrap and had wind pressure issues … and we had done something almost exactly the same in class, so straight away I was able to apply what I had learnt in class to a real, live situation.”
Advantages of working for a smaller company
Adam says he didn’t set out to work for a smaller company, but there are definite advantages.
“I didn’t specifically start looking for work in a small- to medium-sized business, but I think that, especially for starting out, it’s exactly what you need. I have heard from people who work at big firms that it can be two to three years before they even get to go on a site visit, whereas on my very first day I was on site.”
In a smaller business the work is varied, you get responsibility quickly and the bosses are also more approachable: “Don Thomson’s sitting in an office a couple of doors away. I can easily ask him a question – he’s always more than happy to help,” says Adam.
Most of Adam’s work is on household renovations – everything from removing a simple wall and installing a beam, to major house additions. He says he really enjoys this work, working with the clients and builders, who often have good ideas about how best to achieve what the client wants.
Adam has a good deal of respect for the tradespeople he works with, and says that the six months he spent working in Placemakers before he started doing the BEngTech course was really valuable.
“It taught me how to deal with contractors and builders,” he said. “It was really good to learn softer skills and product knowledge – it’s a real advantage to know what’s sitting on the shelf.”
Although residential work is the core of what he does, under Marlo’s guidance Adam has recently started working on the demolition of a ten-storey building in Thorndon, Wellington that suffered major damage earthquake in the November 2016 earthquake.
Don Thomson Engineers has been engaged to prepare the building to be removed piece-by-piece, safely and in a way that minimises delay and therefore cost.
“The crane is very expensive,” says Adam, “so they want it being constantly used, which means they want to have members prepped to be removed ‘bang, bang, bang, as fast as they can’.
“Then there’s also a lot of very damaged stuff. So, if you have a beam that’s got a crack right through the middle of it it’s still there now, but if you pick it up by its two ends what’s going to happen is it just going to pancake down –so that’s the sort of thing we have been engaged to sort out.”
Expanding the practice
The big increase in earthquake-related work is one of the reasons why the practice has significantly expanded in the last two years. Employing BEngTech graduates has helped them do so in a practical and profitable way.
Marlo says that so far he has seen the three BEngTech graduates deal well with all the projects they have been given.
“What we haven’t really tested yet is the sort of very highly specialised seismic engineering, because it is very technically challenging and they have not been working long enough for us to test that out.”
It’s early days yet, but professional development could include becoming a Registered Engineering Technology Practitioner (ETPract) or a Chartered Professional Engineer (CPEng). To become a CPEng though, a BEngTech graduate would need to sit a ‘big exam’ on engineering theory.
But that’s in the future, and at the moment he is just happy with what the three are bringing to the business.
So, can he see BEngTech graduates being valuable in other small- to medium-sized businesses?
“Yes,” he says, because of the range of work they can do.
“You can put them wherever you want really. For instance, if there was not enough demand for engineers you could have them drafting.”
Our thanks to Marlo and Adam for their time and advice; if you have any queries please contact ENGINEERINGE2E@TEC.GOVT.NZ
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