“You have to grab every opportunity in life”, says Derek Te Kanawa, who hasn’t looked back since graduating from Otago Polytechnic with a New Zealand Certificate in Mechanical Engineering (Level 3).
Derek is now working as an apprentice fabricating engineer at Dunedin utilities company Delta and “absolutely loves” the variety of challenges that come with the job.
“The engineering department at Delta is relatively small, comprising about 10 people. There is a lot of hands-on experience and I get great guidance.
“It’s quite varied. We work in with linesmen, maintaining their truck hydraulics, booms and might also fabricate toolboxes for the vehicles. We also work in with the greenspace crew, fixing ride-on lawnmowers and other equipment.
“We also head out of town sometimes, to Queenstown and other places. We get to do a lot of courses, too.”
Derek recently returned to Otago Polytechnic to undertake a three-week block course covering a range of general engineering skills, including fitting, machining and welding.
“It’s part of my year-3 apprenticeship requirements and helps me upskill in various areas.”
Before enrolling in the New Zealand Certificate in Mechanical Engineering, Derek had spent 10 years working in mental health.
“I started as a social worker then did community support. Then I ran a high-needs facility.
“Engineering was a bit of a U-turn, but I’d wanted to do it since I was a young fella growing in Picton.
“My wife, Dana, knew I was looking for a change so we discussed me going back to study.”
At the time, Derek was 40 and the couple had three children under 10. Yet he wasn’t daunted by a return to learning.
“I just went for it,” he reflects.
“It‘s important not be scared to ask questions. I had to ask for support in order to work through some areas, because it’d been 25 years since I’d been at school.
“I was lucky to have such great guidance from the Engineering staff.”
Derek received an Otago Polytechnic mataawaka scholarship, awarded to Māori whose whakapapa is outside the Kāi Tahu rohe.
“There was no shortage of help and support. I absolutely loved the whole year. I wish I’d done it earlier.
“I’m really happy with how things are going. I love engineering.
“When I come home from work, my kids want to know what I’ve done.”