Engineer shortage peaks
According to Wilson De Pril of the technology sector federation Agoria, economic growth during the next few years will be hampered by a dramatic shortage of engineers. The number of vacancies for industrial and civil engineers on the books of Flemish Employment and Training Service VDAB stood at 9,747 in 2011 compared to 6,912 in 2010, when recruitment dropped due to economic uncertainty. Last year’s figures are not much lower that those recorded during the crisis year 2007, when VDAB received an absolute record amount of 10,649 vacancies for engineers. De Pril believes the strong increase in demand that started in 2006 is especially due to the large-scale retiring of the generation of baby boomers born after the war as well as the pursuit by many businesses to be more innovative. The past 20 years have also seen a dramatic drop in industrial and civil engineering graduates. In 1990 there were approximately 3,840, but this fell back to 2,690 in 2005 and dropped even further to 1,940 last year, leaving businesses at their wit’s end. Campus recruitment, which headhunts engineering students during their master’s training, are common practice these days. “Large multinationals with affiliates abroad import Chinese and Indian engineers. But they are a minority,” says De Pril. Developing countries need their own engineers to sustain their economic growth. According to a report compiled by Unesco, the UN organisation for education, science and culture, Brazil will need 360,000 engineers within the next five years. If black Africa plans to achieve the 2015 millennium objective, it will need 2.5 million engineers. Similarly Flanders should not expect any help from engineers from other European countries, as the shortage of engineers in Germany stood at 77,000 last year. In Flanders the number of technical diplomas in comparison to the total number of higher education diplomas is 17%, the Flemish Indicators Book of 2009 shows. In European top countries like Ireland, France, Finland and Austria, the share is at least 10% higher. The world leaders are currently found in Asia, with Japan the top scorer at 63%, followed by China at 53% and Singapore at 40.6%. All is not lost, however, as the number of industrial and civil engineering students has shown a slight increase during recent years. Agoria is hopeful that this marks a turn in the trend. De Pril is optimistic about two things: the fact that the number of female students starting a technical study is on the increase and reforms in secondary education. In the field of agricultural engineering, female students make up half the student numbers, and in the civil engineering and technical engineering fields of study they constitute 21% and 10% respectively. And their numbers continue to increase. Secondly, Flanders' Education Minister Pascal Smet SP.A plans to weaken the division between professional, technical and general secondary education through the integration of technical and technological subjects in all branches of study as from 2014 .