The 2012/03/22 at 06:50
Marie Luginsland, in Spire
At the start of March, Peter Löscher did not hesitate to voice his views in the widely read German daily paper Bild Zeitung. "The shortage of engineers endangers Germany's prosperity. At Siemens, there will be a lack of over 14,000 qualified persons including engineers in 2020," declared the President of Siemens. Indeed, in the mid-term, the shortage threatens the existence of many German businesses, mainly SMEs making up the backbone of the national economy. A new record was beaten at the start of the year. "105,000 positions are unoccupied and there are 18,800 unemployed engineers. On average, an engineer graduating from university does not stay unemployed for more than nine months," declares Marco Dadomo, spokesman for VDI, the federation of German engineers. This shortage, which has worsened over the years, affects all domains, production as well R&D. And consequences can also be seen in businesses. “It's not rare that R&D departments relocate to other European countries, to Spain or France for example. And in most cases, things stand at a point of no return," regrets Marco Dadomo.
The engineer shortage is nevertheless an object of controversy. According to the economics institute DIW, a supporter of employee unions, the problem stems from various elements. "The need for engineers is exaggerated. We need, at the most, 20,000 new engineers per year to replace those retiring," states Karl Brenke, specialising in the employment market at DIW, who refers to a yearly 1.5% increase in positions in the sector since the crisis. It is more difficult to get around the primarily demographic cause of the shortage. The average age of the one million engineers in Germany is 45 years. "This is the only European country displaying a negative balance in its population of engineers. For every 100 engineers over 55 years old, we only have 87 engineers under 34 years – compared with 348 in France and 242 in Great Britain, for example," explains Oliver Koppel. This economist specialised in human capital and innovation at the economics institute IW specifies that 21% of German engineers are over 55 years old.
In the face of urgency, professional federations are multiplying their communication campaigns. But solutions are not easy in this country where engineers are trained at university only. "Many young people underestimate the level of studies and 40% who start courses drop out in the first semesters," points out Marco Dadomo, who places his hopes on the 8.7% rise recorded in 2010 yielding 59,000 engineering graduates. Meanwhile, the State wishes to fill the missing ranks straight away and has made conditions for issuing the Blue Card more flexible, in order to encourage the hiring of foreign (non-EU) engineers. Businesses will not be obliged to prove that they have failed to find suitable candidates amongst German engineers. A topic to keep watching, given that at the start of the 2000s, the Green Card meant to promote the arrival of Indian computer technicians ended in a fiasco.