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Despite headwinds, the Wonder Project continues to inspire rangatahi around New Zealand to get involved and pursue pathways in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

Meeting demand for STEM skills is an area of significant concern for Te Ao Rangahau. A 2023 update to the report Economic Impact of Engineering estimated engineering positions produce an average of about $228,000 of GDP per employee per year – nearly twice as much as the average New Zealand worker. Further, New Zealand will need almost 2,500 engineers every year assuming long-term economic growth of 3%, even before new engineers needed to replace those who retire, leave the profession or go overseas. Eighty percent of future jobs in Aotearoa will require STEM skills but over the last 10 years there has been up to a 20% reduction in students being assessed for NCEA physics and maths subjects.

The Wonder Project – our high-quality STEM programme in schools – remains a major focus for us in addressing the future demand for engineers, technologists, and scientists. The financial year to 30 September 2023 was the biggest yet for the Wonder Project. Rocket Challenge and Power Challenge initiatives saw nearly 36,000 rangatahi participating across 1,233 classes at 583 different schools. About one-third of students were Māori or Pacific Peoples, and around half were girls. The Wonder Project was supported by 453 STEM professionals – “Wonder Project Ambassadors” – about one-third of whom were also Engineering New Zealand members.

“My Wonder experience is a journey that took me to my childhood and re-living the moments and paths that I took to be a STEM professional now.”

– Asanka Meththa MEngNZ, Infrastructure Project Manager, Waikato District Council  

The programme’s impact continues to be seen, with 74% of students and 96% of teachers increasing their STEM confidence after participation, and 48% of rangatahi being more interested in a STEM career. In our ongoing efforts to inspire the next generation of engineers, we are introducing a Water Challenge to the Wonder Project. This initiative aims to engage young minds in solving real-world water-related problems, fostering their interest in engineering and promoting sustainable practices.

It was therefore disappointing that, in 2023, Callaghan Innovation decided to stop funding the Wonder Project. Engineering New Zealand remains committed to continuing the Wonder Project, albeit at a reduced scale in the short term. We are working hard to keep delivering high-quality STEM education experiences by partnering with businesses and industry organisations who have a shared interest in securing the STEM pipeline.

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