Plugging the engineering skills gap


Unitec, six West Auckland schools and local engineering employers are working together to show students the great opportunities with a career in engineering. The project aims to inspire students, upskill teachers and produce the graduates needed for the workforce.

Secondary-Tertiary Pathways Project

Unitec and partnering schools Kelston Girls’ College, Massey High School, St Dominic’s College, Kelston Boys’ High School, Green Bay High School and Waitakere College, received Secondary-Tertiary Pathways funding to develop a programme to increase the number of students enrolling in engineering studies.

Breaking out of the education ‘tunnel’

Teachers want to engage with industry and learn how to make learning relevant, says Ellimay Hendricks, Unitec Engineering Education-to-Employment Project Leader. “As a teacher I’d gone through the education ‘tunnel’ – in one end and out the other without really appreciating the ‘why’ – and this project aims to change how we teach content”.

“As well as connecting student learning to an awareness of the real world, this project is about upskilling teachers. It’s a true engagement, bringing them along on the journey as we create effective learning together.”

Engaging students with engineering

A key aspect of the project is to engage Year 9 to 12 students with engineering so these students continue studying Maths and Physics after Levels 2 and 3 NCEA. Capturing student interest at an early stage, so they carry on with Maths and Physics rather than drop out of these subjects, makes it easier for them to enrol in and successfully complete an engineering qualification.

Students will engage with guest speakers from industry, including recent New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE) graduates, and go on site visits to see where their learning can lead them. Their practical experiences will include using the latest simulation technology and undertaking project-based learning in Unitec’s engineering laboratories. In this way, the curriculum will be better connected to industry and this will help put their learning into context.

Nick Hackett, Assistant Principal of Massey High School, says the initiative is exciting for students. “They will be experiencing the inspiring tertiary environment of Unitec while continuing their school education. We hope that this exposure and insight will highlight engineering as a possible profession, and keep students engaged in learning to enhance their career prospects.”

Year 12 engineering course

During 2017, up to 40 Year 12 students from across the six schools will be able to attend engineering workshops and labs at Unitec for one day per week, where Unitec staff will teach alongside secondary teachers. This will enhance their understanding of maths and physics as applied to engineering and reinforce required content in NCEA assessment.

After successfully completing the relevant entry requirements in the Year 12 programme, the students will be eligible for entry into the NZDE. If they wish to explore entering the Bachelor of Engineering Technology, they will continue into a Year 13 programme to be developed for 2018. Unitec offers both civil and electrical engineering qualifications.

The course is being created and delivered by Unitec in collaboration with school teachers. It will be overseen by an Engineering Education-to-Employment working party comprising representatives from Unitec, the schools involved, industry and the Ministry of Education.

As part of the programme, Maths and Physics teachers in the partner schools will be linked with IPENZ (Institution of Professional Engineers), NAWIC (National Association of Women in Construction), other industry bodies and engineering companies, providing them with experience and professional development in the engineering sector.

In addition, ongoing professional development, including moderation, assessment development and pedagogical approach will occur through a recently-established Physics-Maths teaching cluster. Through these activities, teaching staff can share their knowledge and practice with a wider network of teachers within the partner schools to help create a ripple effect which should lead to a better understanding of engineering and education in the community.

Industry partners

Unitec is also engaged with its industry partners.

David Nummy, Acting Head of Engineering at Unitec, says the end goal of the programme is to increase students’ access to employment. “The most exciting part of this programme is, with industry partners on board, it gives students a direct pathway from Year 9 into real jobs with great employers.”

Our thanks to Ellimay and Andrea Thumath for their time and advice; if you have any queries contact

December 2016