Developing a qualification for industry

Concerned about a shortage of fire engineers, fire technicians, fire industry professionals and the lack of a clear career pathway, the Institution of Fire Engineers set about change. With support from Engineering e2e and in collaboration with MIT, it helped develop a new diploma course, and is developing micro-credentials in collaboration with other polytechnics.

The Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) New Zealand Branch had been concerned for some time about problems facing the industry. These included: a shortage of fire professionals; an aging workforce with a large number likely to be retiring in the near future; many in the industry lacked formal training and qualifications; and that there is no clear career pathway into the industry. Institution of Fire Engineers New Zealand

Gaps in training and knowledge,

The institution decided to tackle the problem of training first, starting with a Fire and Emergency NZ 2015 workshop to look at gaps in training for those working in their fire risk management department. Overlaps were seen in the rest of the fire industry so the gap analysis was widened to include the whole fire industry.

“There was lots of consultation with industry,” says IFE NZ president Trent Fearnley, “so we consequently decided to broaden the gap analysis to the whole fire industry – consisting of around 20,000 people.”

Analysing the needs of the fire industry

Analysing the needs of the fire industry confirmed that there was a lack of training across all fields of the industry. The only fire engineering course available was the Master’s programme at Canterbury University, so anyone wanting to specialise in this had to first complete a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Mechanical, Civil or Structural Engineering then seek a change into fire engineering and a Master’s degree.

The analysis found that a lot of people working at middle management and technician level didn’t have any formal fire engineering qualification. “We need to increase their level of knowledge,” Trent says, “and align that knowledge and training with a qualification.” Fire Emergency NZ couldn’t fill that gap as it was outside their remit. It was suggested that IFE should lead this body of work as it aligned with their Engineering Technician grade qualification – the IFE took up the challenge.

No clear pathway into fire engineering

Increasing the number of people getting into fire engineering is challenging as most people don’t know what fire engineering is or that there are many fields within the industry, such as: fire risk management, firefighting, fire engineering design, passive fire construction, fire equipment manufacturing, fire alarm design and installation, sprinkler design and installation, evacuation management and more.

Even if a school student is aware of fire engineering there is no clear pathway to getting into the industry, and the only path available to the Master’s degree was through another engineering field.

A shortage of technician level engineers in particular

The shortage of fire engineers is particularly evident at technician level. Many working in these roles don’t have formal training or qualifications in fire engineering. Those who do had to complete their qualification through overseas institutions. Many companies just hired people with these qualifications from overseas; this was evident at a meeting of 32 fire engineers – only 6 were from New Zealand.

IFE NZ had started working to develop training packages for the New Zealand fire industry. They realised, however, that this wasn’t the best way to get more students into fire engineering.

Feedback from teachers: fire engineering won’t get much traction in schools

In 2016, IFE NZ in association with FireNZheld a careers day in Auckland to promote fire engineering as a career. Feedback from teachers at the event, however, was that fire engineering wasn’t likely to get much traction in schools because there was no defined career path. “They said that students need to be able to join the dots, to see the pathway from school through to tertiary study and a job.”

Focusing on the New Zealand Diploma in Engineering

After considering current and potential training opportunities, the Fire Protection Association NZ training group chaired by IFE NZ decided that the New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE) was the answer. After being introduced to Engineering e2e, Trent gave a presentation in Wellington about developing a diploma for industry by industry.

The institution’s needs fitted perfectly with Engineering e2e’s goal and led to discussions on the way forward. “After establishing a relationship with Engineering e2e,” Trent says, “doors started opening for us,”. In 2017, IFE NZ and Engineering e2e signed a memorandum of understanding to help develop a career path for fire engineers.

“We were struggling to get people to help with a diploma course, so Engineering e2e directed us to MIT. We agreed to work together, and MIT formed a Subject Matter Expert Group from IFE NZ members to develop the course with help from employers in the fire industry.”

Starting with a Certificate of Achievement in Fire Technology

While IFE NZ and MIT worked towards the new NZDE, they started developing a pathway which would start with a Level 2 qualification for school students. The Certificate of Achievement in Fire Technology – a five-week block course – begins in July this year for 30 Year 30 Year 11 – 13 Gateway students. Next year it will be offered as a one-day-a-week Gateway course. “The purpose of this course is to show students the various disciplines within the industry and to guide them into a career in one of them.” says Trent.

“Those who want to be more hands-on and trade-based can go through to the next stage – Competenz courses – and then on to the NZDE. Others may choose to go directly into the NZDE for roles such as evacuation consultant and building consent official, to name a few.”

NZDE almost ready to launch

The NZDE in Fire Engineering has been approved by the New Zealand Board of Engineering Diplomas and is currently waiting for New Zealand Qualifications Authority approval. Once that is obtained, MIT plans to offer the course in July this year. Trent says they are aiming for 50 – 100 diploma students each year, or possibly more!

IFE NZ is promoting this year’s course to people already working in the industry, with approximately 100 already interested.

Employers supporting staff to study towards the NZDE

Fire industry employers are supportive of the new NZDE course, with 30 already lined up to offer jobsto students. “There are also more employers throughout New Zealand interested in offering work experience in 2019, leading on to jobs at the end.”

Employers are also supporting existing staff to do the diploma. Cove Kinloch, for example, is offering four scholarships to staff, and Fire Emergency NZ is also looking at supporting staff to go through the course.

Micro-credentials in Fire Engineering

With the diploma almost ready to roll, IFE NZ is now looking at developing micro-credentials with various polytechnics. Polytechnics, for example Otago Polytechnic, will also recognise previous learning from people with experience in the industry towards the NZDE.

The micro-credentials will be aimed at people working in any role which relates to fire engineering. An architect, for example, could upskill through a fire engineering micro-credential.

Fire Emergency NZ is learning more about micro-credentials in fire engineering and targeting its training to align with them. It will also support anyone wanting to move on to study towards the NZDE.

Fire engineering in the Bachelor of Engineering Technology

The next step is for IFE NZ and the SPFE to help develop fire engineering papers for the Bachelor of Engineering Technology so that it can lead on to the Master’s in Fire Engineering.

Photo: FireNZ conference trade stand 

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