From luck to choice – the steps to a career in Engineering - Engineering e2e

INDUSTRY/EDUCATION LINKS CASE STUDY

From luck to choice – the steps to a career in Engineering

From luck to choice – the steps to a career in Engineering

Should your options in life really come down to luck? We don’t think so. We chatted to Mike about his journey through education to employment in engineering. Mike’s story has helped us identify which steps aren’t yet clear or accessible enough. Which of these gaps, as an education provider or industry employer, apply to you? What will you do to close them?

Mike Davies, Junior Engineer at the Robinson Research Institute in Wellington, puts a fair amount of his journey so far down to luck. He started out at secondary school not knowing what engineering was, or whether he was taking the right prerequisites – and now he’s a full-time engineer and a looking forward to postgraduate study. We reckon Mike deserves more credit, but his story highlights a common problem in our education system: the pathway to engineering is often one people stumble upon, not one presented to them. Should your options in life really come down to luck? We don’t think so.

We chatted to Mike about his journey through education to employment in engineering. Mike’s story has helped us identify which steps aren’t yet clear or accessible enough. Which of these gaps, as an education provider or industry employer, apply to you? What will you do to close them?

Step 1: Influence the influencers

As children grow up there are adults in their lives who influence how they think, act and the decisions they make. Teachers are one. Mike’s teachers didn’t promote or talk about engineering as a career option, which made it difficult to link school with a job in the distant future. Parents are another, and here Mike was lucky. His father works at WelTec, so Mike was able to learn and ask about engineering. Teachers and parents need to help kids look at lots of career options. If they don’t have the knowledge, they need support too.

Step 2: Ensure kids get the right prerequisites at high school

The second step for a student is knowing and taking the prerequisite subjects. This requires schools promoting information, and industry providing exposure. Mike took a broad range of subjects at school – Maths, Physics, Science, Graphics, Technical and Hard Materials and even Art. As with so many people we’ve talked to, Mike didn’t know at the time that he was taking the necessary prerequisites to study engineering. “I managed to scrape through, but more support and clarity really would’ve helped me know what I needed for tertiary study,” he tells us. “At the time there wasn’t a bridging course over summer – that would’ve been useful too. Even so, I didn’t fully understand what engineering is until I started my Diploma at WelTec.”

Step 3: Help students locate themselves on the engineering spectrum

When Mike started looking at tertiary study, he based his decisions not just on what he wanted to learn, but how. Mike chose to go to WelTec and study for the two-year Diploma of Engineering, specialising in Mechanical. He decided on the Diploma because of the manageable timeframe of two years, and because of the hands-on nature of the course. “I liked building and making things, so taking the Diploma first up was the natural choice” Mike says. “If you’re thinking about studying engineering, look at where on the spectrum suits you. Do you like more practical or theoretical study, and which course fits your preferences? There’s such a broad range.” To show people that anyone can take up engineering, think about how you can communicate the spectrum.

Step 4: Provide flexible pathways

Mike really enjoyed the practical, project-based nature of the Diploma. After two years, however, he found he wanted more. “I decided to carry on at WelTec and do the BEngTech. It was great because I was able to cross-credit two thirds of my Diploma. I then studied part-time while I worked, and I’ve just finished the degree. My employers were supportive of my study.” Flexibility allowed Mike to chop and change his study as he went, and still keep going forward.

Step 5: Offer students work and experience!

Which leads us to that step from education to employment. Mike tells us he was lucky again – he happened to hear his tutor talking to his now-boss at the Robinson Research Institute, and his tutor helped put him in touch. “Job opportunities weren’t widely advertised a few years back, but they’re promoted much more now. The more the better.”

Mike’s job as a Junior Engineer requires him to analyse a problem and create solutions for it. He has to validate and prove his solutions both theoretically and also practically, to minimise the mistakes you can make when building complicated machines. He really enjoys this mix in his work. He was able to step into this role after completing his initial two-year Diploma, which demonstrates the opportunity the engineering sector can offer for people from all types of qualifications and disciplines.

Onwards and upwards

Mike is now looking to go even further with his studies – he will be applying for a Master of Engineering, specialising in Mechanical. This will work well, as he can do the research through his job. Then all it takes is writing his Thesis in the evenings!

If you would like to know more, please contact us on engineeringe2e@tec.govt.nz. Our thanks to Mike for his time and advice.

November 2014

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