Michael Thompson's Story

Michael did WelTec’s Engineering Diploma and now works for one of New Zealand’s most famous companies, Whittaker’s, as a Process Control and Systems Engineer. He loves working for the trusted chocolate company, where no two days are ever the same. He spends his time working on upgrades to make the machinery more current, installing new machinery as the business grows bigger, and breakdowns, where he fixes anything that is involved with the chocolate production. 

He started off at Whittaker’s with a temporary contract where he did a bit of electrical engineering helping fix machines, not unlike an apprenticeship that lasted 90 days. They offered him an internship immediately after. Because of the flexible working hours, Michael was able to work at Whittaker’s part-time while he studied full-time. “They told me to work when I can but put study first, so when I had exams and everything coming up they just said take as much time off as you need. Obviously with it being part time you didn’t get paid if you had time off, but they were very good at looking after me while I was studying.” 

Michael says that going from his WelTec programme to the job with some good background knowledge of how things work helped him hit the ground running. “For example, at Whittaker’s, we do a lot of automation and I did an automation paper at WelTec. We’ve also got a lot of robotics here in the factory, and I did a robotics paper, so the theory I learned at WelTec crosses over to the practical working world straight away.” 

"...the theory I learned at WelTec crosses over to the practical working world straight away.”

Some of the papers that Michael did even use the same sort of equipment that is used in industry. “At WelTec, in the automation part of the programme, we do a paper on PLC. PLC is the programme logic controller, or the brain of a machine (a computer). The ones we use while studying at WelTec are the same brand and same way of programming used in industry, so I’ve been able to transfer my understanding of it to the real world right away.” He says he wouldn’t be able to do his job without having a good knowledge of PLC. “Technology is growing quick so you’ve got to get to know it or get left behind.” 

At Whittaker’s, Michael’s position is a new one. “They’ve never had someone in that position so I’m the first person to get this role here, but now we’re hired another person as well.” He loves the variety of work and being challenged every day, and he’s a bit of a rising star in the chocolate engineering world, having been on 3 News and the Wall Street Journal, telling his story. “It’s a pretty sweet job.” He’s been able to share his experience with his tutors and new students by taking them for Zoom tours around the factory. 

As for why he chose to study engineering at WelTec, Michael says he’s always liked to make things. “My father always brought me broken things. We would set up in the garage and pull things apart, and put them back together, hoping it works.” He’s taken his passion and turned it into an exciting career.