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It's easy to think about careers promotion in terms of school leavers, but upskilling current employees should also be encouraged. James Tala enrolled in a Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BEngTech) programme after being encouraged by his employer to consider tertiary study.

"I didn't know what I wanted to do"

Like many other students, James completed secondary school without any career pathway in mind.

"I just wanted a job," he said.

Twenty years later he still works at Dulux, now in the role of continuous improvement manager.

"I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school. It's just lucky that my work at Dulux exposed me to engineers and aspects of engineering so that I slowly developed a better understanding of what it involves."

When offered the opportunity to study, James decided that engineering was a natural fit with his interests. He enrolled in The Open Polytechnic BEngTech programme so that he could study part-time while continuing full-time in his job. "It also allows me the ability to plan my study around life - being able to juggle family, work and study."

Doing it all has been a challenge he says, especially dedicating time to the level of study required while helping to raise two children. "As assignment due dates get closer, I'll normally do a lot more study during weekends. My family has had to cope with less quality time but they have been really supportive."

Transferring learning to the workplace

James says he is already benefitting from his studies, bringing skills learnt in the course to a job which includes responsibility for developing, implementing and monitoring safety quality and efficiency improvements in the manufacturing plant. He is also involved in creating engineering drawings, working in cross-functional teams and analysing information for review. "The engineering drawing courses I have done have definitely been invaluable for some of the projects I work on."

While he has four more years of study to complete the qualification, James is already looking to the future and possibly more study with an IT focus. "Again, it's work related. The exposure to the automated systems in the factory has got me interested in programming. There will be more reliance in the future on automation so it's a field with lots of future opportunity."

Why follow this pathway?

When asked what advice he would give to school leavers, James noted that he's talked to a lot of other people who also didn't know what they wanted to do when they left school. "If the older me gave advice to the younger me, it would be to just start studying something that interests you from a career perspective, even if you're still not sure what path you want to take, until you get the hang of what interests you at a personal level. There are lots of programmes with a common first-year course, so you can easily transfer if you decide that pathway is not quite right for you."

It can be tough combining work and study, he says, and you have to stay focused. "But the reward," he adds, "is that there are more options for the person with the piece of paper at the end of it."

Encouraging staff

If you're an employer assessing future staffing needs, you might want to cast your eyes over existing employees - perhaps one of them just needs that extra push to obtain a qualification at Level 4 or above? James says he didn't think he would get the chance to study again after leaving high school, "But here I am! If the opportunity presents itself - take it."

Note: This case study was originally published on www.engineeringe2e.org.nz

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