NZ engineers use practical skills in international collaboration


"NASA has rocket scientists; and New Zealand has practical engineers who are working with them to create the future."

A practical engineering qualification can lead someone to working with NASA

New Zealand needs more people with that essential combination of practical and theoretical skills. To enable that, we must make our young people aware of the potential and excitement of a career in technology.

And as a society we need to understand that a university degree is not the only path to high-paying, interesting work and a better future – it’s possible that a practical diploma in engineering can set students on a pathway to working with NASA.

“My boss was looking at the time for someone with a bit more hands-on ability”

27-year-old Mike Davies works at Victoria University’s Robinson Research Institute, which has been part of a NASA panel to investigate the roadmap for electric aircraft. They have just begun working with International collaborators from Europe, USA and Japan to design the world’s first hybrid electric engine for commercial jets.

Mike completed a New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE) in Mechanical Engineering at WelTec. The two-year, hands-on engineering course led him to a position with the Callaghan Innovation team that later became the Robinson Research Institute. Mike gained a position on a project developing high-temperature superconductors.

“My boss was looking at the time for someone with a bit more hands-on ability and so that’s how I got the job,” says Mike.

New Zealand engineers will work on the hybrid electric aircraft project for at least five years

The electric aircraft project is only at the concept stage, but is investigating using high-temperature superconductors – because they are the only solution to getting enough power at a low enough weight, to power an electric 737-type aircraft.

The Robinson Institute team’s 30 years’ research experience on superconductors was one of the reasons the project won more than $6 million of funding through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) 2017 Endeavour Fund. Other factors were: New Zealand’s high dependence on affordable, sustainable air transport; our commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and the potential downstream opportunities for NZ companies to produce specialised, high-value components for the hybrid electric industry.

New Zealand engineers will be working on the hybrid electric aircraft project for at least the next five years – applying both practical and theoretical skills to solve problems and create a future which is better for both the economy and the environment.
We need to place more value on practical courses

But we have a problem – we are not producing enough ‘Mikes’. While New Zealand has more engineering graduates than ever before, thanks to a significant boost in funding for engineering education, it’s still not enough to build the infrastructure and create the new products we need to be a successful high-wage economy.

We need more engineers and we need to think beyond the idea that academic study is the only way to personal and national success. We particularly need to place more value on the practical courses that provided Mike, and many others, with a pathway to interesting and rewarding work.

NZDE provided the foundation for further study

As is common in engineering, Mike’s employer has supported him to do further study. He completed his Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BEngTech) studying part time at WelTec (after cross crediting his diploma), and is considering postgraduate study.

But it is the practical engineering from his NZDE and BEngTech that provides the foundation. As Mike says: “You need to know how things go together for one thing – it’s all part of design – and definitely hands-on practical experience helps with that.”

Out thanks to Mike for his time and advice; if you have any queries please contact

December 2017