With Europe facing a shortfall in engineering graduates, remedies are already being put in place, writes Dirk Bochar.
The success of the EU’s innovative economy rests on a solid base of engineering excellence – a sector where Europe has always excelled. However, it is confronted by a growing gap between what industry needs and what schools and universities have to offer.
This is why my organisation, FEANI last year launched the ‘Engineers Europe Advisory Group’ initiative. This Group brings together key stakeholders to discuss, address and resolve this mismatch and develop the young engineers Europe needs.
This is why I was delighted to hear, at a recent hearing in Brussels organised by FEANI and hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), how much progress the initiative has made since its inauguration 12 months ago.
Entitled “The Future Engineer: wishes and facts”, it presented the viewpoints of those most likely to be affected by the consequences of the shortfall, those trying to encourage new talent to pursue engineering careers and those working to bridge the gap.
Representatives of two leading trade associations – Business Europe and CEFIC, the European Chemical Industry Council – explained how their members saw a growing future demand for a modern, flexible engineer, with a range of skills including digital. Both actively seek ways to encourage young people to enter this career path, stressing the value and importance of ‘on the job’ learning such as apprenticeships.
Some members of the initiative have taking this a stage further. Rolls-Royce Aviation, a company with a global reputation for quality and innovation employing more than 17,000 engineers, relies on a continuous flow of talent. It regularly undertakes outreach to schools, universities and even communities to ‘show and tell’ what a career in engineering can offer.
For those already embarking on their career, the, European Young Engineers organisation highlighted two aspects crucial for them. The first is mentoring; emerging engineers should be able to look to industry and academia for support when deciding their career paths. The second - with professional mobility increasingly the norm - is the security of knowing that their qualifications are mutually recognised throughout the EU.
This need for mutual recognition touches on another potential contributor to bridging the shortfall; recognising skills that are already among us. With some 250 million people living outside their country of birth, many already offer skills and qualifications of value. Yet without formal recognition, they cannot be leveraged. UNESCO–UNEVOC described their work in making qualifications and skills more portable, allowing individuals to use their expertise where they now live and work.
“In establishing the Engineers Europe Advisory Group, FEANI has created the ecosystem to cultivate the young engineers that European business will need”
Of course, immersing all children in the benefits of engineering can bring is vital. All will benefit from STEM education, with some drawing the inspiration to draw them into an engineering career. Astra in Denmark provided an example of how FEANI partners are already working to make this a reality. The number of countries participating should continue to rise.
To maximise the potential of outstanding engineering students, the University of Regensburg in Bavaria is undertaking research into the benefits of mentoring. This will see potential ‘rising stars’ given support to help them reach their potential and assess the best way to maximise its impact in future
Higher education is also adapting; educational institutions are increasingly embracing the approaches for delivering the skills industry needs. EURASHE, the European Association of Institutions in Higher Education, believes that in future, higher education will no longer be an event, it will be a component in a process of life-long, skills-oriented approach. This will offer the flexibility for emerging engineers to acquire the skills as and when they need them.
In establishing the Engineers Europe Advisory Group, FEANI has created the ecosystem to cultivate the young engineers that European business will need. Membership continues to grow, reaching sufficient critical mass to allow it to now set out and execute an ambitious work programme. As for FEANI Vice-President Ralph Appel observed, stakeholders finally have the platform they need to leave their silos and work collectively.
Stakeholders have signed a Letter of Intent to foster stronger relations, promote STEM subjects and reinforce the image and visibility of the profession. Thanks to these efforts, we’re getting there.
You can read a more detailed report of the meeting on 11 September on the FEANI website, along with some of the key presentations.
You can read more on the ‘Letter of Intent’ here.
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