Evaluating the mechanical engineering gateway
Key findings

Mechanical engineering unit standards were developed by Competenz to encourage secondary school students to enrol in engineering tertiary programmes. The number of students taking these standards is increasing, with female participation increasing at a quicker rate than males. The programme is shown to be effective at encouraging students into further ITO training, particularly with Competenz. Continuing female participation in these courses at secondary school could be an effective way at increasing female apprentices.


Competenz developed mechanical engineering unit standards to encourage enrolments in ITOs. This study explores the effectiveness of these standards at achieving that goal. The students that took these standards were compared against those that did not to see if they went on to get further training with an ITO. This information can be useful when determining whether to encourage secondary school students to take these mechanical engineering standards or not.

How many students are taking engineering standards?

The chart below shows the number of school leavers each year who have completed a mechanical engineering standard. The proportion of students taking one of these unit standards while at school has increased from 4% in 2009 to 6% in 2016. The proportion of males taking the standards is much higher than that for females, however, the proportion of females more than doubled between 2009 and 2016.


School leaver data is sourced from Ministry of Education data in the IDI. Foreign fee-paying students and exchange students have been excluded. Students are tagged as having completed an engineering standard if they have ever completed one during their time at school. Those who do not achieve a standard are not included. The percentage of school leavers who completed an engineering standard includes those who completed Level 1 or Level 2 standards.

How many gateway alumni go on to ITO training?

Many students who complete gateway mechanical engineering standards go on to some form of ITO training. Three years after completing their last electrotechnology standard, over 25% of alumni have either completed ITO training or are currently enrolled. Ten years after their last standard, about 37% of them have completed ITO training.


The gateway alumni included here refer to anyone who successfully completed an engineering standard at school since 2002. Each year after completing their last engineering standard, they are classified as currently in ITO training, completed ITO training, ITO training incomplete or no ITO training. This training is with any ITO.

ITO training completion is defined as being recorded as successfully completing and/or receiving a qualification. Incomplete training is defined as having no completion recorded, and either an end date recorded in a previous year or the last start date being recorded over three years ago with no end date.

Effect on Competenz enrolment

Those that took the engineering standards at school were compared with those that did not by the fraction of how many each enrolled in various ITOs. We have filtered by gender since men are both more likely to choose trade ITOs and to take mechanical engineering standards, so a comparison using both genders would be misleading.

A male was 3 times more likely to enrol with Competenz if they completed the mechanical engineering standards at secondary school. BCITO enrolments were roughly 2 times as likely for those males who took the mechanical engineering standards and enrolment with Skills Org was only 1.7 times as likely. The mechanical engineering standard has shown to cause an increase in ITO enrolments overall, with the biggest increase at Competenz specifically.


School leaver data is sourced from Ministry of Education data in the IDI. Foreign fee-paying students and exchange students have been excluded. The first ITO that a school leaver enrols with after leaving is used for classification. Both school leaver and ITO data are for the years 2009 to 2016 inclusive.

Controlling for other factors

From the previous chart, it is unclear as to whether gateway standards are:

  • Attractive to students that would have gone on to study with Competenz anyway
  • Encouraging students to attend Competenz that would have otherwise attended an alternative ITO
  • Encouraging students to attend Competenz that would have otherwise chosen an alternative career that does not involve any ITO training

A regression analysis was conducted to control for the characteristics of each student suspected to also have an impact on their ITO decision. In the following table, the likelihood of an individual choosing Competenz over other ITOs was calculated dependent on various factors listed in the table.

Even after controlling for these factors, it appears that the engineering gateway standards have a significant effect in encouraging students into training and careers in the engineering sector.

Factor Effect on choosing Competenz vs other ITOs
Completing a Level 2 engineering standard 1.7x as likely
Gender Men 2x as likely
Father in electrotechnology sector 1.5x as likely

There were also regional differences in how likely students were to choose to enrol with Competenz.


Access to the anonymised data used in this study was provided by Statistics New Zealand in accordance with security and confidentiality provisions of the Statistics Act 1975, and secrecy provisions of the Tax Administration Act 1994. The findings are not Official Statistics. The results in this paper are the work of the authors, not Statistics NZ, and have been confidentialised to protect individuals, households, businesses, and other organisations from identification. Read our full disclaimer here.


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