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Pathways into trades

There are a number of valid pathways into a general engineering or mechanical engineering career in New Zealand.

But they’re not all the same.

Competenz is the government appointed, standard setting body for a variety of engineering trades in New Zealand. We also write the qualifications for these industries in close partnership with industry and employers. Because of this employers are confident that Competenz qualifications are current and fit for purpose.

Straight from school into an apprenticeship

At Competenz and ATNZ we’re all about industry training – you earn money while you are learning.

You can pathway straight into a mechanical engineering apprenticeship (level 4) straight from school. If you find a job in an engineering, manufacturing, refrigeration and air-conditioning or plastics production workplace, you and your employer will then agree to start an engineering apprenticeship with us.

Most apprenticeships take around four years to complete and our Competenz training advisors or ATNZ account managers are with you every step of the way. We support you with your learning, assessments and arranging block courses. Plus we visit you and your employer regularly to check-in and make sure you’re on track for success.

And, we can help place you into work too.

There are other ways to get started in engineering and related trades, but they’re not all created equal.

Many level 3/pre-trade engineering and mechanical engineering programmes are advertised as;
equivalent to the first year of an engineering apprenticeship.

This isn’t always the case. We have outlined some of the differences and some of the potential pitfalls of alternate routes.

Not all pre-trades/level 3 programmes are created equal – check your polytechnic

For some people a pre-trade or level 3 qualification gained through a polytech or private training provider is a good way to help decide what trade you feel most passionate about. At the same time you will gain some broad trade related skills you can take into the workplace.

We believe the following providers offer level 3/pre-trade engineering programmes showing a clear Record of Achievement (RoA – the formal way you can track and show achievement of unit standards):

  • Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • Unitec Institute of Technology
  • Northtec
  • Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki (WITT) 

These programmes provide learners with a clear RoA that could pathway directly into the second year of an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering. When you come to enroll in an apprenticeship we can clearly see unit standards you have achieved in your level 3 qualification and it makes it easier for Competenz and ATNZ or your employer to see the skills you have and what you can already do.

And it means we might be able to fast-track you into year two of your apprenticeship.

Your total time in the apprenticeship reduces to just three years, and that’s a win for you as well as your employer!

My polytech isn’t listed – what does that mean?

If you have a level 3 from another polytech and you want to enroll in a mechanical engineering apprenticeship with Competenz or ATNZ you may be asked to complete the assessments required for the first year of the apprenticeship. This is because Competenz or ATNZ cannot clearly see what learning you have achieved via a RoA.


Some polytechs use an approach called a Graduate Profile Outcome or GPO. Their teaching and learning material hasn’t been reviewed and assessed by Competenz. So while they are teaching to a national standard, they aren’t aligned with the preferred industry approach – a unit standard based one.

Sometimes this means that you could invest time and money to gain your level 3 certificate and then have to complete assessments required for the first year of the apprenticeship when you are in employment. This can also mean your total time in training could be five years, instead of four.

This is confusing, isn’t it all the same?

Unfortunately no. You will still achieve an NZQA accredited level 3 qualification however;

  • Under a unit standard approach your RoA tracks and clearly shows what you have achieved in your level 3 certificate – it is a more detailed record 
  • Under a GPO approach your level 3 certificate says you meet some high level outcomes – not specific standards.

I’m confused, can you help?

We sure can. We realise that this industry training system can cause some confusion for learners considering their next steps and we’re always happy to answer any questions you might have.

Contact Competenz today.