Strengthening pathways into trades and engineering

Issue: Volume 101, Number 9

Posted: 21 July 2022
Reference #: 1HAV62

A nationwide shortage of workers in trades and engineering is fast becoming a big opportunity for schools to partner with industry and strengthen pathways to employment.

Sacred Heart College students Dayna, Zarya and Tali at a Girls With Hi Vis event hosted by HEB Construction.

Sacred Heart College students Dayna, Zarya and Tali at a Girls With Hi Vis event hosted by HEB Construction.

As the saying goes, crisis equals opportunity, and at Hastings Boys’ High School the opportunities are rolling in thanks to a school-industry collaboration to plug regional skill shortages.

The school partners with several local employers in trades and engineering to provide ākonga with opportunities to gain industry-specific skills through a series of technology workshops.

“We’ve got four technology workshops – Engineering, Carpentry, Product Design and Visual Communication (DVC),” says Salla Delport, head of technology.

This year, the school has opened a Building Academy which is a fulltime option for Year 13 students.

From the moment the Year 9 students walk through the school doors, they are told about the pathways to employment through the workshops, says Salla.

“First we ask how many trades they know about, and they’ll say, ‘builder,’ ‘plumber.’ And we’ll say, ‘Hang on, did you know that there are trades within plumbing? There is a gas fitter and a drainlayer.’ We start educating them from an early age about the different options in the trades and for tertiary study.”

Salla says there are three components to a successful school-industry partnership: a passionate employer who wants to make a positive difference to community; dedicated kaiako, and support from a trust or the board, or a local board that can help obtain funding to equip workshops to industry standard.

Financial and practical support

While the school has long provided technology workshops, the quality of these is now industry standard thanks to a partnership with local employer, Patton Engineering.

“Four years ago, they walked through our doors and said, ‘Listen guys, we’ve got a shortage of skilled people in our workshop, and we would like to form a partnership’.

“Engineering is expensive. But when Patton came on board, we sought funding from industry and trusts such as One Foundation to bring our equipment into line with industry standards. We’ve invested around $300,000 worth of grants into the workshops so that when our boys go to work, they can add value from day one.”

Patton also assists by allowing the school to purchase workshop materials through the company’s trade account, reducing costs by 48 percent, an option now available to all schools across the motu.

Salla says access to upgraded workshop equipment and machinery allows students to work at a much higher level than previously.

“The quality of our projects has shot through the roof. It’s gone up so much that the workforce development council is working towards supporting our boys to do apprenticeship level standards at school.

“I’ve shown professional engineers and architects some of our Year 11 Design portfolios and they say, ‘I will employ this boy when he finishes school’. They will make that call after seeing the work of a 15-year-old.”

Unveiling talent

Johno Williams, managing director at Patton, says the rewards are mutual.

“We would not have known the talent that was out there had we not started this initiative. There are some amazing students coming through the school system and all they are looking for is an opportunity from an employer. We encourage employers to share the same dream that we have.”

Patton also takes students for work experience, “and the welding they do there in one day is as much as they would previously have done throughout an entire year at school,” says Salla.

“They get so good that they end up working alongside qualified tradesmen while still at school.”

The engineering workshop at Hastings Boys' High School is equipped to industry standard.

The engineering workshop at Hastings Boys' High School is equipped to industry standard.

Raising the bar

Time in the field also raises the bar for student behaviour, says Salla.

“Five years ago, we’d have incidents in the workshops related to the boys’ behaviour but that’s completely gone. They know that any of our industry contacts could walk in at any time, and it has raised the mana in the workshop.

“The boys know someone cares about them and is offering opportunities, and that’s changed attitudes in here. They want to be noticed.”

For some students, there are opportunities to move into a cadetship where they can obtain a Level 6 Diploma in Civil Engineering or similar through polytechnic.

Industry partners visit the school to explain to students how they can go on to be project managers or get involved with building and construction or civil pathways, and how that can lead to a university qualification.

“It’s like a trade but it leads to tertiary qualifications. Last year we had five boys go down that pathway instead of heading to university.

“It’s also the boys who never thought it possible to become a draftsman and earn more than $100,000 a year by the age of 28. They know now that they can go into a trade and become very successful in business.

“The students see for themselves the real-world possibilities. Some go on to work with Patton and we’ve had others go to various employers in Hawke’s Bay.”

Why start in Year 9?

By the end of the boys’ first year at the school, Salla says most have passed through at least one of the four workshop options putting them in good stead for the following years.

“At first, the focus on is resilience, hand skills and common sense. In Year 9, a student will make six or seven little projects. We teach them that if at first you don’t succeed, you do it again. And again, and again. We teach them basic measuring and marking skills, and how to weld and grind.”

Many of the skills are transferable meaning that workshops held during the second half of the year are more advanced as students are already equipped with much basic knowledge.

“For example, our DVC workshop is all about computer aided design (CAD). We use Fusion 360, and the boys do a lot of design on the computer then print their projects on 3D printers. And what we see is that when a boy has done that during the first half of the year and goes into engineering, product design or carpentry in the second half, he’s already got the skills that put him miles ahead of the boys who haven’t been in the DVC workshop.”

The junior workshops are extremely popular option choices with an average of 96 students enrolled each half year. This means that by the time the students reach Year 11, many have a kete of skills across the technologies giving them a solid foundation for specialist subjects during their senior years.

Some ākonga transition directly from Year 12 into apprenticeships while others continue with their technology studies into Year 13.

In Year 12, there are more than 80 students in at least one workshop, including 22 in engineering, most of whom will transition directly into employment at the end of the year.

The students who return for Year 13 tend to choose carpentry or product design or move into the Building Academy where rangatahi spend four days a week working on a house and the fifth day on work experience.

“Because of the demand we have introduced a new physics course in Year 12 which we call Trades Physics. That’s for students who might not be going to university but want to go into a trade or polytechnic and need to learn about basic physics including forces and electricity.”

Addressing diversity

Skill shortages are not the only issue facing trades and the construction industry. Diversity is lacking too, with women making up only 18 percent of the construction workforce.

It’s an issue that is being addressed by infrastructure training provider Connexis, through its programme, Girls With Hi Vis (GWHV).

GWHV works with a range of companies across the infrastructure sector to promote career opportunities. In June each year, those companies host events around the country for female secondary students.

Onsite, the students hear from inspirational women in the industry, learn about careers in civil, energy, telco, and water infrastructure industries, and try their hand at operating an excavator, climbing a power pole, and testing water.

Students explore opportunities in telco at a Girls With Hi Vis event hosted by Unison.

Students explore opportunities in telco at a Girls With Hi Vis event hosted by Unison.

Seeing female role models

“It’s important that our female students can see themselves in those roles through women already there and doing it,” says Connexis director Kaarin Gaukrodger.

“We get really positive feedback from the students about how engaging the GWHV events are, and the practical information they get about skills, careers and how to get started in infrastructure.”

Fifteen-year-old Awatapu College student Annalena says she left the Palmerston North GWHV event feeling inspired to work towards a career in roading.

“Seeing what goes on in the industry and from different points of view helped me see the opportunities. I really liked having the chance to operate a digger and to learn how to use traffic control tools. We also had a tour of the lab where they test roading materials.”

Annalena says she will now connect with her school’s Gateway programme to forge her path into the roading industry.

More than half of the attendees at GWHV events say they had not known about a career in infrastructure trades before attending, while almost all say the event made them feel more confident about opting for an infrastructure trades career.

“This year we have had a record number of businesses participate, including HEB Construction, Fletcher Construction, Higgins, Downer NZ, Waiotahi Contractors, Civtec, Fulton Hogan, Watercare Services Ltd, Citycare Water, CPB Contractors, Genesis Energy, Meridian Energy, John Fillmore Contracting Ltd, and Geotechnics,” says Kaarin.

Inspiring ākonga to study further

Gary Yeatman, principal of Awatapu College, sent 20 students to the event in Palmerston North and says it was highly motivating for them.

“They come back with more of an idea about what they need to do to get into that job. They’ll say, ‘I need to keep going with maths and I am going to need English.’ They see those links.”

Gary says the sooner students get involved, and the sooner they can see there’s a place for them, the more likely they are to be successful and achieve their aspirations.

“They certainly seem to enjoy it and they come back quite excited. And at a time when we have an issue around engagement because of the disruptions of Covid-19, you use everything you can to keep students engaged.

“We know in New Zealand that the days are long gone where high schools were all about preparing students for university. About 25 percent of students go on to university which means that 75 percent don’t take that pathway. We offer all sorts of things like automotive, but we can’t do it all ourselves and that’s why it’s so great to have employers and industry on board.”

 Hasting Boys' High School building academy

Building your school-business partnership

Hastings Boys’ High School has partnered with several local businesses to form pathways to employment for students. Head of technology Salla Delport shares pointers for setting up employment pathways into local industry.

Talk to local businesses

Salla says local businesses can be worth their weight in gold to schools.

“We reached out to local employers and asked them what they needed from us. Obviously, they’ll need staffing. How do you address that? Can you send students on work experience so the company can get to know the student? Find some common ground, what does the company want? What does the school want? Most schools want better equipment and access to cheaper materials, that’s what is holding them back. And that’s what industry can help with.”

Invite the professionals in

The school also asked professionals to come in, not only to talk to the students but to upskill teachers.

“Patton Engineering provides us with training opportunities to upskill our staff and are always available for mentoring, guidance, and training of staff if needed.”

Reach out to alumni

Salla says the school invites old boys in to talk to students and that one of the school’s partnerships is with Tumu Timbers where the managing director is an old boy.

“He said they wanted to help the school by providing pathways for students into wood processing, and it’s going along nicely. They took six of our boys during the first year and five or six the next year.”

Nurture the relationship

Like any relationship, effort is required on both sides.

“We invite our partners to rugby games, to graduation. Our workshops carry their signage and our workshop clothing has their logos. We can take parents or school visitors to their workshops to show what we’re doing.

“Our vision is to supply them with competent students at the end of the year, that can add value to their business from day one.”

Hastings Boys' High School has a new Building Academy supported by local construction businesses.   

Hastings Boys' High School has a new Building Academy supported by local construction businesses.   

Be patient

The school asked businesses to provide work experience and through a process of trial and error, worked out a system that runs smoothly.

Salla says the first time, they sent some Year 12 students, and realised it was not working for some of the students.

“The next year we had [students who] knew work experience was a possibility and they wanted to be chosen. And by the third year, we were away, no problems. It’s not a quick fix, you can’t do this in a day or a year, but the students will rise to the expectations.”

For more support connecting and engaging with employers, use the Employer Engagement Toolkit(external link)  

For more information about these projects, and to watch a video about the Building Academy at Hastings Boys’ High School(external link).


BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:36 AM, 21 July 2022

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