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Making tertiary studies in engineering more relevant

Making tertiary studies in engineering more relevant

Last updated 6 December 2016
Last updated 6 December 2016

New research commissioned by Engineering e2e has found that engineering graduates need to have personal, interpersonal and cognitive capabilities as well as the requisite technical knowledge and skills to be ‘work ready for tomorrow’.

Report cover of Making tertiary studies in engineering more relevant


Otago Polytechnic researchers published the results of the research in a new report called Making Tertiary Studies in Engineering More Relevant. The report aims to help tertiary education organisations understand what employers need from engineering graduates.

The research project was triggered by an Engineering e2e workshop held in June 2015 where the views of 40 New Zealand engineering employers were gathered.

The employers identified the need for nationwide research to provide feedback from graduates on the capabilities and competencies required for their work and a better understanding of how TEOs can keep tertiary education relevant for graduates.

The researchers at Otago Polytechnic adapted a survey used for Australian engineering graduates with three to five years of work experience to use with New Zealand graduates. The survey covered six areas:

  • judging effectiveness at work
  • personal capabilities
  • interpersonal capabilities
  • intellectual capabilities
  • key skills and knowledge
  • keeping tertiary education relevant.

Graduates rated the importance of each area in effective, early career practice. They were also asked. where appropriate, to what extent this area had been given focus in their professional studies. The responses were analysed to identify themes and reasons why graduates rated items as they did.

In rating strategies to keep higher education relevant. graduates placed great value on:

  • work placements
  • problem-based assessment rather than memorising
  • facts
  • real-world case-studies
  • projects that developed personal, interpersonal capabilities delivered by teaching staff with current industry experience.

More than 80 percent of graduates described their work as challenging, particularly when things went wrong in terms of:

  • their professional/ethical capabilities
  • time management
  • problem-solving
  • decision-making skills
  • and coping with stress.

The online survey was followed by workshops with employers, staff from tertiary engineering schools, Engineering e2e Project Steering Group members, and representatives from the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand. The workshop participants tested the veracity of the data produced and discussed the key findings and their implications.

The report makes 13 recommendations for TEOs, employers, the Tertiary Education Commission, the Productivity Commission and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The Engineering e2e Steering Group is now planning to discuss implementation of the recommendations with tertiary providers and government agencies.

Download the PDF of the full report (PDF, 5 Mb)


Feature image by Chris Sisarich, courtesy of New Zealand Story.