Ensuring engineering graduates are well prepared for employment

Ensuring engineering graduates are well prepared for employment

Engineering employers and educators are enthusiastic about collaborating to ensure NZDE and BEngTech graduates have the competencies and capabilities they’ll need in an evolving workplace.

Establishing sustainable collaboration to ensure best practice

The Making Tertiary Studies in Engineering More Relevant project, an Engineering e2e initiative, was commissioned by the Tertiary Education Commission in 2016.
*See below to find out how the project started

Its objectives are:

  • To establish sustainable collaboration between industry and institutions providing New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE) and Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BEngTech) programmes to ensure best practice for graduate engineers 
  • To develop a set of criteria to help improve the quality of learning and teaching and consequently outcomes for industry in engineering programmes.

The potential to make a real difference

“The project has the potential to make a real difference,” says Project Lead Dr Michael Edmonds, head of Engineering and Architectural Studies at Ara, in raising the visibility of the NZDE and BEngTech qualifications.

 He notes that there is “some information asymmetry” between employers, engineering education providers and students. “For example, some employers aren’t aware of the practical skills and broad knowledge that NZDE graduates possess. They don’t know what this qualification involves and what the students are actually doing, or how readily they can hit the ground running.”

Developing a model of effective teaching and learning

Over December/January of this year, engineering tutors completed an online survey focused on:

  • What is effective teaching and learning?
  • Effective methodologies
  • Examples of effective practice

Dr Edmonds used the survey findings to construct a model of the five key factors that contribute to effective teaching and learning: tutors, students, industry, resources and support systems.

                                           Model - 5 key factors that contribute to effective teaching and learning                                           

Survey results presented at engineering forum

The results of the survey were presented to the 60+ engineering tutors attending the 2018 Joint NZDE/BEngTech Forum. This provided an opportunity for attendees to discuss the project and provide feedback and additional information to be incorporated into the project report.

Engineering tutors and employers discuss Good Practice Guide

Dr Edmonds summarised the survey findings in the draft document Making Tertiary studies in Engineering More Relevant: Good Practice Guide. Small groups of ITP (institutes of technology and polytechnics) and employer representatives met at workshops in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington to discuss the guide and identify opportunities to improve engineering education.

“There’s a real appetite for change”

“Everyone was happy with the guide,” says Michael. “There’s a real appetite for change, even though there are divergent views about what that change should be.”

“An important opportunity is to look at how we can make resource development more efficient. There are currently 16 providers, all doing slightly different things.”

What’s next?

Following the workshops, Michael and Project Manager Brenden Mischewski, looked at how the engineering education system is performing, including how widespread the practices identified in the Good Practice Guide are. The results will be presented in an Engineering Education Practice report. They expect that the results will help ITPs to prioritise changes to teaching and learning practice and inform investment and quality assurance decisions.

Engineering e2e’s Engineering Reference Group is acting as the advisory group for the project. The group has encouraged the project to support changes that will draw on the best practices in ITPs and make programme design more efficient.

Over the next year, ITPs will collaborate on course design. Michael notes that there is a strong case to build on the expertise in particular ITPs and reduce duplication of effort. “We each individually are spending a lot of staff time developing courses, time that could be better used giving staff opportunities to engage with industry.”

Michael will present the project at the 2019 Joint NZDE/BEngTech Forum. This presentation will signal where some ITPs are heading in terms of programme change. ITPs are looking to implement changes in their programmes from 2019.

Low visibility of the NZDE and BEngTech programmes

The challenge in raising awareness of the NZDE and BEngTech – and their place in helping resolve New Zealand’s engineering skills shortage – isn’t just around informing the general public. Michael points out that some engineering employers don’t know about or realise the advantages of these qualifications.

“The project is also about the parity of engineering courses – creating a clear identity for the NZDE and BEngTech as alternative and valued qualifications. Not all engineering roles in New Zealand require a four-year university degree, and if employers don’t understand the value of NZDE and BEngTech graduates then they are missing out.”

*2015 Employer engagement workshop leads to project

The Making Tertiary Studies in Engineering More Relevant project developed from Engineering e2e’s 2015 workshop for engineering employers. Participants discussed a Professional and Graduate Capability Framework, the competencies and capabilities valued by their industries and the engineering sector, and future directions for the sector. They concluded the workshop with a recommendation that the framework be replicated in the New Zealand context to help create graduates who are ‘work-ready’ for today and tomorrow.
Case study: Creating work-ready plus graduates
Workshop report: Talking with employers (2015)

Engineering graduate study

Engineering e2e commissioned Otago Polytechnic to run an engineering graduate study based on the framework, to improve tertiary education providers’ understanding of what employers require from engineering graduates. The team consulted with engineering employers and successful early-career engineers for their perspective on what graduates need for the workplace.

The study findings and recommendations were published in the Making Tertiary Studies in Engineering More Relevant report in 2016.
Making tertiary studies in engineering more relevant (2016)

Our thanks to Michael and Brenden for their time and advice; if you have any queries please contact

November 2018