Michael Thom­son, a re­cent grad­u­ate of WelTec’s Bach­e­lor of En­gi­neer­ing Tech­nol­ogy, ex­plains how the hands-on prob­lem­solv­ing-based de­gree en­sured he was work-ready.

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“I went to uni for two years, but I’m more of a hands-on per­son than a pen-and-pa­per per­son.” Michael Thom­son

Michael loves work­ing on en­gi­neer­ing projects. He has built his own drone that goes from zero to 140kph in un­der a sec­ond. “I reckon I could get 160kph out of it. I just need to tin­ker with it,” says the WelTec en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent, who built the drone from scratch. A few years ago, he made head­lines lo­cally and glob­ally ap­pear­ing on Three News and the front page of The Wall Street Jour­nal for us­ing his drone to muster sheep. “It’s a pretty quick way of mus­ter­ing,” says Michael. “I like try­ing new things and have al­ways loved do­ing lit­tle projects like that. I built my own 3D printer, for in­stance. I like ma­chines and mak­ing ma­chines do a task.” Michael is study­ing en­gi­neer­ing at WelTec — last year, he com­pleted the New Zealand Diploma in En­gi­neer­ing and is now do­ing the Bach­e­lor of En­gi­neer­ing Tech­nol­ogy — and also works at the Whit­taker’s choco­late fac­tory in Porirua. “Lots of things I learnt went straight into what I do at work, es­pe­cially pro­grammable­l­ogic-con­troller (PLC) pro­gram­ming and work­ing on con­trol sys­tems.” In the de­gree, which he’ll com­plete in two years rather than three, he’s ma­jor­ing in elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing, learn­ing about ar­eas such as au­to­ma­tion, sys­tems, con­trols, and pro­gram­ming. “I’m do­ing the de­gree be­cause it opens up even more op­por­tu­ni­ties,” he says. Michael started work­ing at Whit­taker’s at the be­gin­ning of the year, one day a week, and he works there full-time in the hol­i­days. “I do a bit of ev­ery­thing there. I’ve got lots of lit­tle projects go­ing that keep each day in­ter­est­ing, plus it smells great,” he says. “It’s quite good to get the in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence while you’re study­ing. Whit­taker’s has told me to put study first and I take time off for ex­ams. I couldn’t ask for a bet­ter em­ployer.” His su­per­vi­sor Herbert Areg­ger says Michael has a real un­der­stand­ing of how things work. “We’re very lucky to have him. His tech­ni­cal knowl­edge is quite amazing for a 25-year-old. He works on lit­tle projects here, does gen­eral main­te­nance, a bit of fab­ri­cat­ing, bit of weld­ing, does elec­tri­cal work, and he’s pretty clued up with pro­gram­ming, too,” says Herbert. “What­ever he learns at WelTec, he can put into prac­tice here. One re­cent project was in­stalling a new ink printer onto one of the ma­chines to print best-before dates on the choco­late. He did the me­chan­i­cal side of things and pro­grammed the ma­chine.”

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