Plugging the skills gap

June 2016


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With all the talk about New Zealand’s growing skill shortages in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas, Education Review looks at two collaborative tertiary initiatives aimed to plug gaps in ICT and engineering.

ICT Grad Schools

The new ICT Graduate Schools were established to help bolster the ICT workforce.

“Industry leaders see the school as part of the solution to the growing shortages in the New Zealand ICT workforce,” says Rees Ward, director of the Wellington ICT Graduate School, the newest ICT Grad School to open its doors for business.

The Wellington school, which opened in May this year, is one of three government-funded ICT Grad Schools in New Zealand.

The schools aim to expose students to the industry as they undertake their study, to ensure they join the workforce attuned to the latest trends and practices. Industry partners are able to connect with students through scholarships, mentoring opportunities, internships and project work. The schools offer master’s-level degrees, with graduates gaining expertise in software development, business analysis and engineering – vital disciplines for the ongoing growth of the regional and national ICT sector.

“The industry appreciates the school’s effort to tap into communities and demographics that have been traditionally under-represented in ICT. This will increase the diversity of the talent pool,” says Ward.

Chris Gosling, chief executive of WelTec and Whitireia, who together have the largest IT delivery by institutes of technology and polytechnics in New Zealand, says there has never been stronger demand for highly skilled technical experts.

Curbing national shortage of engineers 

Wintec has teamed up with Waikato secondary schools to address the national shortage of engineers by moving more young people towards a career in the industry.

Together, they’ve developed a programme – the first of its kind in New Zealand – which aims to provide secondary school students with a pathway into engineering.

From February this year, around 30 year 12 and 13 students from Hamilton’s Fairfield College and Fraser High School have spent two days per week of the school year taking part in engineering courses with learnings that will apply to mechanical and civil engineering pathways at Wintec.

During the other three days, their maths and physics school subjects will be specifically contextualised toward engineering. A Wintec engineering tutor will work with the schools to incorporate projects into their curriculum which teach the theory through hands-on application.

“At the end of the year, the students will have the necessary criteria to enter into and succeed in Wintec’s New Zealand Diploma in Engineering,” says Wintec chief executive, Mark Flowers.

“New Zealand needs more engineering graduates and primarily at the level of engineering technologist and technician, but there’s a public misunderstanding about the breadth and depth of the industry.

“There are a range of credible engineering roles that don’t require a four year university degree, but that open up great career options for some pretty decent pay.

“The fact we’re not training enough people in this area goes right back to secondary school. Students need to take the right subjects like maths and physics in order to be able to move into an engineering diploma or degree and it’s much better if they can understand the relevance of these subjects to jobs like engineering. This programme aims to address this.”

Fairfield College principal Richard Crawford says the programme will connect his students to an engineering pathway that offers significant career opportunities.

“Next year will not be the final year of secondary school for these students, but the first year of a three-year programme that places them in the strongest possible position to achieve the New Zealand Diploma in Engineering.”

Fraser High School principal Virginia Crawford agrees.

“Creating purpose and context in learning with a clearer line of sight between what a student learns at school and how it is connected to the engineering vocation is a game changer.”

The results of the pilot programme will be evaluated at the end of 2017, with the aim of increasing the number of participating schools and students in 2018.

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