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Balancing Work And Study Not a Problem


Engineering student Alex Smith is juggling employment and study, working in industry while he studies full-time.

“Fortunately my office is 50 metres away from WelTec. I usually spend the morning at the office, and the afternoon at WelTec,” says Alex, who is an automation engineer for Petone company AFI, Automation for Industry.

“We design, commission and support industrial control systems - like some of the machines that Whittaker's use to produce their chocolate. Though we work in a wide range of areas throughout the industry.”

Alastair Cook, Director of AFI, says the company has worked on many factories around Wellington. “We also do a lot of work for councils which is focused largely on water and waste treatment plants, for the New Zealand Transport Agency on tunnels, and on various ships and ferries as well,” he says. “We started 10 years ago and have kept growing since.”

Alex is the first student they've employed. “He showed initiative and was very enthusiastic. The key is the enthusiasm – that's what's making him shine at the moment. He loves to learn and pick things up, plus it's nice to get a fresh set of eyes on things,” says Alastair.

“At the moment, he's doing some work on power monitoring at Callaghan Innovation, one of our major clients.”

When Alex isn’t working, the second-year student is studying towards a Bachelor of Engineering Technology majoring in mechatronics at WelTec. “My first year was focused on the basics: maths, physics and learning some computer systems,” says Alex. “I'm now learning instrumentation, control, fluid mechanics, hydraulic systems and PLC (programmable logic controller) programming.

“A large portion of the work that AFI carries out involves the use of programmable logic controllers. Taking papers that studied PLC programming gave me a great base knowledge that I’ve been able to apply at work. Learning what we do in class was a big plus for my employer as it meant that I have some base level knowledge that allowed me to start to work on something straightaway.”

WelTec’s Head of Engineering Graham Carson says, “Working and studying at the same time has two main advantages. The first is students can put immediately into practice what they are learning in the classroom. Secondly, students are earning an income which keeps their costs down. It’s fantastic to see that Alex has found a place to study that suits his needs. The New Zealand Diploma in Engineering and Bachelor of Engineering Technology degree delivered at WelTec is in high demand from industry and Alex is proof that these qualifications can lead to fantastic career opportunities.”

Alex has always liked engineering, both physical and software-based. “I have a home workshop full of electronics kit and I do a lot of engineering, like building my servers, there. From a young age I've had a passion for it and that's what made pursuing it as a career a good choice,” he says.

“With mechatronics a lot of it is software. You might be interacting with a robot and making a robotic arm move so you're writing a program to control that. Writing software and seeing something move is really satisfying.”

Alastair says Alex's practical experience was important for AFI.

“His CV showed he had hands-on practical skills through farm work and things like that, as well as quite detailed technical software skills with virtual machines and microcomputers. The combination was what sold it for us,” he says.

Alex originally studied at university, but found it wasn't quite the right fit. “At WelTec I really enjoy the small class sizes and one-on-one tuition. It's great to be able to go and have a chat to your tutors, even about your own projects outside study. It's a nice atmosphere,” he says.

With a year to go on the three-year Bachelor of Engineering Technology, Alex already knows what he wants to do. “I definitely want to stick with automation. The whole world is becoming automated so that's where development is going to be.”

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