Promoting the middle pathway into engineering


A secondary-tertiary programme aimed at encouraging students into engineering is proving valuable before it even starts! Where previously careers advisors tended to suggest students head into the trades or university, they now have a better appreciation of the 'middle pathway' into engineering.

Polytechnic works with local schools

The Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki (WITT), with partners Francis Douglas Memorial College, New Plymouth Boys’ High School and New Plymouth Girls’ High School, was awarded Secondary-Tertiary Pathways Project funding to develop and deliver a programme aimed at encouraging more students to study engineering. Their programme promotes the New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE) as an entry point into industry or stepping stone to higher engineering qualifications.

Filling a gap

Lauren O’Reilly, HOD Careers at Francis Douglas Memorial College, is enthusiastic about both the initiative and her increased knowledge of pathways into engineering. Where previously she advised students (and parents) about the opportunities available through a Level 4 or 5 Certificate in Engineering or Bachelor of Engineering (Honours), Lauren was less knowledgeable about the opportunities available to students through the NZDE and Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BEngTech).

“I didn’t really appreciate that there was a middle pathway into engineering – this programme fills that gap between the trades and the route through university. Now I’m an advocate for the alternative pathways.”

Collaboration is key

School careers advisors and senior managers worked with WITT staff to develop the programme. Catherine Lo-Giacco, Faculty Leader Commerce and Technologies at WITT, emphasises that it was a true collaboration. “We didn’t put a programme together and show them what was planned; instead we said ‘this is what the opportunity looks like, what do you think?’”

Developing a model which would allow students to also achieve Level 3 NCEA and University Entrance was a key issue for the schools, and it was eventually decided that students would attend one three-hour class at the institute each week. Those travelling a long distance will have access to study facilities at the venue.

Ready to go in 2017

The programme is set to run next year with a target of 15 students anticipated to engage in the specific Year 13 part of the programme. Other local schools have expressed interest in being involved, and others will participate in events run as part of the programme, such as speakers and industry visits.

The programme targets Year 10 to 13 students:

  • Year 10: engage student interest through presentations about engineering and the NZDE
  • Years 11–12: participants get ‘taster’ engineering experiences, e.g. CAD or machining
  • Year 13: students go directly into an NZDE course and complete a formal engineering paper as part of their Year 13 course.

Promoting the programme to students and parents

An important aspect in promoting the programme to students was making sure everyone was aware of it. Lauren notes that when WITT staff spoke to Year 12 students, for example, it involved the entire cohort, with extra time allowed for those who wanted to learn more. “It’s important to expose everyone to the opportunities available.”

The schools and WITT highlighted the advantages of the NZDE and BEngTech for students:

  • That they can have the same career outcomes as those who go directly to university
  • Students experience smaller classes than universities, with lower costs
  • Students can move directly into industry or go on to further study
  • That the NZDE and BEngTech are internationally recognised qualifications
  • And that it provides great career prospects.

Benefits all around

“Everyone saw this as an amazing opportunity to fill that gap between going into the trades or into a four-year degree,” says Catherine. “We see there is an opportunity to engage more school leavers, so we’re working on that pathway from school. Our graduates can go into industry or, having gained a solid grounding in their field and good study habits, go on to university.”

Another benefit, Lauren notes, is that raising awareness of engineering encourages students to continue with maths because they can see how it’s used in industry. “I’d also been concerned that so many ‘academic’ students drop Technology, so hopefully they will see the advantages of gaining practical skills and theoretical knowledge in the subject.”

Our thanks to Lauren and Catherine for their time and advice, if you have any queries please contact

December 2016