Can’t find an engineer? Why not make your own?

Once upon a time, the path to an engineering degree in this country was so rigorous and demanding that NZ graduates were headhunted by companies all over the world. Unfortunately, with the introduction of Unit Standards, our engineering students became very proficient in certain areas, but missed out on the all-round, robust education that had previously set them apart from their overseas counterparts.

Since then, the decline has only continued, and it’s not just a New Zealand problem. The world over, the pool of qualified competent engineers is too small for the amount of work that needs to be done, meaning that New Zealand companies are  struggling to recruit new staff, either from here or overseas.

The answer then, is to train up young New Zealanders, and that means that engineering companies need to be prepared to take a hit right where it hurts, to their back pocket. At BTS Engineering in Christchurch we currently employ three people under the age of 25, which is almost unheard of in our industry, and we are training them right from the ground floor. We look at our young people as an investment, and along with years of industry training, we pay to put them through a number of courses, including welding, electronics, bearings, Health and Safety workshops, and everything they will need to become first class maintenance engineers.

Owner Clint’s Thorburn’s goal when he retires in a quarter of a century or so, is to have produced 16 fully qualified engineers, and he is hoping that other industry leaders will take the bull by the horns and do the same, or the ramifications for the New Zealand economy will be profound.

Clint also think it’s crazy, in an industry plagued by worldwide staff shortages, that 50% of the population is either dismissed as not being interested or is simply not encouraged to look at mechanical engineering as a viable career. To this end he is working with various female empowerment groups throughout Canterbury to figure out how best to recruit female school leavers who are smart and switched on but don’t feel like they want to go the traditional university route.

Clint notes that the need for blunt, matter-of-fact communication is important in the engineering maintenance industry, but it can be off-putting for younger women, especially those who haven’t been brought up to be direct. He firmly believes however, that women are just as capable as men when it comes to industry skills, and that they just need a push to give it a go.

There is no doubt that today’s young people want a work-life balance that would have been unheard of thirty years ago, but Clint, having come from an army background, is acutely aware of the importance of making the most of your downtime when you get the opportunity. This might not sit well with some members of the older generation, but as he points out, “it does ensure that when you are working you’re giving it 100%. It’s a fact of life that Gens Y and Z are not interested in working hundreds of hours a week for the rest of their lives, so the industry needs to come to terms with that” says Clint.

Do you know the names of your employees’ kids? Their spouses? Their parents? When BTS Engineering hold one of their regular staff functions they know exactly who’s allergic to poultry and who can’t eat gluten and they cater accordingly. This sort of ‘family atmosphere’, where you get to know your employees on a more personal level, is really important if you want to retain staff in 2024, especially in an industry where the job is regularly taking people away from their families on the weekends.

If you want to know more about working in Mechanical Engineering, or your company is considering training young recruits on the job, give Clint at BTS Engineering a ring on 0800 885 383 or email and make your own engineer today. Your country will thank you for it!