The European Federation of National Engineering Associations and 'The Parliament Magazine' recently organised a conference on engineering, digitalisation and the launch of a new platform, the Engineers Europe Advisory Group


On September 11, 2018, the European Federation of National Engineering Associations (FEANI) in co-operation with ‘The Parliament Magazine’ organised a conference on engineering, digitalisation and the launch of a new platform, the Engineers Europe Advisory Group.

By establishing an “Engineers Europe Advisory Group” as a co-operative consortium of various stakeholders (students, academics, professionals, business representatives and policy makers), the event focused on the challenges of the digital transformation (promotion of STEM, the skills agenda, closing the skills gap, ensure well-trained education providers, consider ethical aspects of digitalisation, etc), on how the European engineering community of professional and educational organisations can better engage with industry on the future of work and on how the voice of engineers in Europe can be strengthened.

Please read below for a full account of the event.

Session 1: Academic Session – The future of work, support future European industrial competitiveness, challenges of an ageing workforce
José Vieira, President, FEANI , was pleased to welcome everyone. He explained that since its foundation in 1951, FEANI has expanded to 34 member countries, representing approximately six million individual engineers.

As the input of stakeholders is paramount, the Advisory Group will have a large impact on society, from the perspective of a European voice of engineers and representing their interests, Vieira argued. The set-up of this network has been thoroughly prepared. Tonight, there are about 100 people from 26 different nationalities in the room, he noted. We are open to hear your thoughts and ideas, he said.

A first meeting was held, on June 11, with eight other European organisations. Three major issues were then identified:
• The need to be more involved in industry and employer organisations. As discussed, a platform would be needed, meeting twice a year to exchange information.
• Further development of engineering positions in society, making sure we have sufficient engineers in the future and meeting the upcoming challenges.
• Focusing on challenges of digitalisation, which is also the topic of tonight’s debate.

Themis Christophidou, director-general, DG Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, European Commission , was pleased to see engineers coming together. As an engineer herself, she started building bridges in remote parts of Europe when she was younger. Now she is building bridges as well.

She said the digital literacy is becoming crucial. A total of 44 per cent of people today say they are not up to speed regarding the digital challenges. Not enough young people start studying engineering, she noted. Good and genius are not born, but nurtured from a young age. The role of the EU in this is to support local authorities in education, while leaving the competence for education in their hands obviously. Education has never been higher on the political agenda, as can be seen by the Pillar for Social Rights and as concluded at the European Council level. We need to do more and better, she underlined.

A European Education Area by 2025 is the goal. Key competences should come from life-long learning, improving digital skills, motivating young people and girls in particular to engage in engineering and mathematics. Another project is the Digital Education Action Plan, because better teaching and better learning in the digital age can be built. In addition, the e-twinning platform is a space with over half a million teachers to exchange ideas and training materials.

The creation of the European Education Area will strive to create truly European universities. The goal is to have at least 20 of them by 2024 and aim at excellence in knowledge. Engineering sciences should be brought on board.

The European Commission plans to propose a new European framework to cooperate in education and training, to set common objectives and benchmarks. There is also the exercise of the European Semester, with country-specific recommendations.

Tackle inequalities and improve number of graduates

We should tackle inequalities and improve the number of graduates, she said. The Commission will improve funding opportunities. There are two ways to do this, the Erasmus Programme and the European Social Fund. Doubling the funding of the Erasmus Programme in the next MFF, will allow us to dramatically step up mobility for learners, teachers and institutions, promoting forward-looking study fields such as renewable energy, climate change, environmental engineering, artificial intelligence or design.

It is about the translation of our policies to the life of our citizens, she underlined. We need to change the situation in engineering, empowering women to use their full potential; we need to fill this gap.

Katrina Sichel, moderator, noted that Christophidou talked about Erasmus and asked if this would this not be difficult when talking to Member States, as they have the final competence in the field of education. She wondered if the Member States are on board.

Themis Christophidou said the Member States used to say “hands off”, but now, since the 6 months that she has been in office now, no ambassador has told her to be unwilling to cooperate.
Fabrizia Benini, head of unit digital economy and skills, DG CNECT , noted that digital skills are the priority. She apologised for Commissioner Gabriel who could not be present.

She welcomed the advisory group and said that FEANI’s presence will allow us to understand better how FEANI can help in the digitalisation process. She was willing to listen to the engineering representation body. A total of 40 per cent of businesses have difficulties in recruiting ICT specialists. In the engineering sector of Europe, 400,000 vacancies are not filled. Out of 1000 youngsters up until the age of 25, there is only 19 that embark on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, and even less on ICT.

These issues are recognised by the Commission and are reflected by the next MFF proposals, which were tabled on May 2. Digital skills feature in over 6 programmes, each of it contributing to its own piece of the puzzle: in advanced skills, for engineers, ICT, developing AI, cybersecurity, AI, HBC. The Digital Europe Programme dedicates a significant chunk of its €9 billion to these areas.

Horizon, Erasmus and the European Social Fund

Then there is Horizon, Erasmus and the European Social Fund. Society and business now needs to navigate through all these programmes, but can also reach out to your national authorities and stress the importance of getting these proposals adopted, she underlined. It is important not to let down on the skills programme.

First there will be a Competitiveness Council breakfast in the margins of the Council, debating between CEOs and Ministers the issue of women in ICT. This is important, because we are lacking behind tremendously in Europe but also worldwide, she said. It is about designing the next digital world. We will be publishing a digital scoreboard afterwards of how women are involved in technology.

From October 16-21, there will be the EU Code Week, a grassroots movement that focuses on driving vocations to coding and the STEM, this year focusing particularly on teachers.
On October 18, there will be the first meeting of the High-Level Group on the future of work, looking at the impact that digitalisation has on labour markets. This will be a six-month process, culminating in a report in March. This report will look at the fiscal aspect, education, social security, industrial policy and the issue of skills.

Finally, there will be the appointment of ICT 2018 in Vienna, when the digital skills and jobs coalition meets. This coalition brings together both at national and European level all those interested in promoting digital skills and advancing it.

Katrina Sichel noted that plans from the Commission are often under fire of not being coherent on digital skills.

Fabrizia Benini replied that the Commission is coherent: proposals are built one on top of the other. We do talk among each other within the Commission, she reassured Sichel.

Dirk Bochar, secretary general, FEANI , thought that not the fact that we are engineers brings us together tonight, but the fact we are European. We try to be a bridge between students, society and business, he said. He wanted the new advisory group to be a vehicle. This is the visualisation of a concept to involve four stakeholders: academia, professional organisations, industry and employer organisations, as well as policymakers.

Stakeholders will need to cross-fertilise each other

These stakeholders will need to cross-fertilise each other, by setting up working groups, either electronically or physically. Talks are being established with the Parliament’s IMCO and ITRE Committees, the Commission’s DGs dealing with employment, education, sports, digital issues and the internal market. In addition, academic, industrial, employers’ and professional organisations are being involved.

He stressed that the first results are already achieved. He would prefer an EU-funded project. He mentioned there will be a FEANI working group on STEM and one the UN SDGs. In the latter, the particular SDGs will be looked at in which engineering can play a role. The next challenge for this Advisory Group is to determine a clear work programme, focusing on digitalisation, young people, life-long learning, vocational education and training.

The letter of intent will be signed later tonight, he explained. The executive board, management and the members from 34 countries will provide a good outcome. Early next year, shortly before summer, the work will be presented, he said.

A short video was then shown on the positive aspects and the potential of working in the engineering sector.

Greet Langie, Technology cluster Mechanic Industrial Engineering Techniques, KU Leuven , noted that the Erasmus plus project at the KU Leuven, which is being run together with FEANI, focuses on young engineers. A McKinsey study asked students if they are well prepared for the labour market. 74 per cent said yes. Out of the labour market stakeholders, only 35 per cent answered “yes”. Happiness in their work will drop as well, the research showed after having asked alumni. We want these numbers to improve, she said.

We want to make students aware of their strengths and weaknesses, reduce the skills mismatch and provide students with opportunities to actively explore the wide variety of engineering roles in the labour market. The KU Leaven co-operates with several academic and business partners on these goals.

The Professional Roles Framework, which is validated already, works on a role model for new engineering graduates that transcends the engineering disciplines, is supported by a variety of stakeholders and that is flexible to use, she said. We do not want to push a student into a single role, she underlined.

There are three types of employment in the labour market in engineering: operational excellence, product leadership and customer intimacy. A mismatch can be observed: most students want product leadership, while most jobs can be found in operational excellence.

We are now developing two tests, enabling students to measure the competences they like: the motivational test and the confidence test. They should establish which professional role they like and which one they are good at. In the bachelor’s programme the focus lies at creating awareness of professional roles through industrial contacts and creating awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses through tests. In the master’s programme, there are specific skills trainings and it is about the nurture of talents.

Katrina Sichel noted Langie’s words on not pushing students into a specific role, while it seemed to be rather about preventing a mis-match on the labour market. Are the educators empowered to do this immense job which lies ahead?

Greet Langie reiterated that it is all about the students starting to know themselves and their skills.

Engaging with industry on digital developments and competences

Gerard McNamara, founder and CEO, Schuman Associates, said to have been working with FEANI since January 2018, mapping out the engineering project and getting people to cooperate, engaging with industry on digital developments and competences.

On these, he found it interesting to see how like-minded everyone was. Looking at opportunities, the goals of the Commission’s DG EAC are a good fit with European engineers, McNamara argued. He mentioned two calls that are to be launched in October 2018, with a deadline in February 2019. One is on the Knowledge Alliance and one on the Sector Skills Alliances. DG EAC is disbursing more money in these areas, which is a good match with engineering ambitions.

He mentioned key actions two and three from Erasmus, which touch upon exchanges of practice, partnerships for innovation, the next generation, policy dialogue, the recognition of competences, skills and qualifications. He summarised that the EU has given us the road and there are only two mistakes that we could make: not starting the journey or not going to the end.

Jan Pie, secretary general, ASD , welcomed the initiative of today. ASD is comprised of 3,000 companies from 19 countries, providing 1 million skilled jobs directly and with a 220 billion EUR annual turnover. Pie underlined the importance of the defence and security part. Our industry is a key enabler for air transport, he said.

Towards 2050, Chinese economy is forecasted to be 50 per cent bigger than the US economy

Looking further into the future, towards 2050, he said the Chinese economy is forecasted to be 50 per cent bigger than the US economy. The economy of India will be on the same level as the US. Europe would have lost one-third of its relative size by then, he stated.

A tremendous challenge thus lies ahead. He mentioned the Fourth Industrial revolution which is ongoing now. The power of computing chips is doubling every 18 months. Today, Europe and the US are the leading industry in many areas, roughly speaking. The global scene will become much more competitive, he expected. We should determine how Europe can remain a global leader, he stated. The engineers are indeed the key enablers for companies. There are two fundamental resources: the research & development side and the skills aspect.

Katrina Sichel asked if the industry needs to lead and pull this transition?

Jan Pie said it is the job of industry to better define what is needed on the labour market and what should come out of the educational system. The industry should determine more clearly what should be the reason to get into the engineering profession, to do more branding.

Maxime Cerutti, director Social Affairs Department, BUSINESSEUROPE , noted that the goals are shared between stakeholders and there are some good levels of complementarities. Europe of the future should have strong economic growth, an innovative economy, focused on its strengths, building on skills, at the forefront of invention and new value creation. The global dimension is important, he said.

Interface between education and training

Cerutti said the interface between education and training, on the one hand, and the employment market, on the other hand, is important. We should improve this in Europe. It is about curricula, higher education etc., but also about vocational education in which industry and enterprises are involved.

This is important in improving the match between education and employment. Engineers are a very important part of the solution. The digitalisation requires to have different needs at different levels. This requires skills, because nowadays many new jobs are being created. BusinessEurope wants to support the Advisory Group and sees value in this cooperation.

Katrina Sichel agreed that vocational education is key and noted that in some countries this is developed more than in others. Some still see it as a poor relation.

Maxime Cerutti underscored that this is embedded in traditions sometimes. The cooperation between ministries and education should be improved. Now, we should focus on the European level and the way forward should be that enterprises communicate better on their needs, which is what we are trying to do every day.

We should be quick to adapt to the needs of the market, he concluded.

Véronique Willems, secretary general, UEAPME , representing SMEs in Europe, was eager to invest time in the advisory group, as she saw a big overlap between engineers and entrepreneurs. Many engineers become entrepreneurs. As for digitalisation, many of UEAPME’s members are struggling to get on the digital train. Having the input from the engineers’ side will thus be very important. We can also add value the other way around, because entrepreneurial skills are a need in development, she argued. Becoming engineer is one step, but then one needs to be an entrepreneur.

Tackling the skills gap

On tackling the skills gap, Willems said that for the third semester in a row the lack of skilled staff is the biggest problem that UEAPME’s members express. This aspect should this be addressed as well in the advisory group.

Katrina Sichel noted the SMEs are the backbone of Europe. While digitalisation is here, what is the biggest fear? The fear about not knowing how to adapt or is about social media or money?
Véronique Willems thought it was a mix, and there are different groups of SMEs who have different challenges when it comes to digital transformation.

There is heterogeneity, because there are frontrunners who are innovating and making new products or services. On the other hand, the more traditional companies are not so fond of the digitalisation. E-commerce, for example, cannot be stopped. Sometimes SMEs lack knowhow or money to develop this. Or sometimes the regulatory framework is not up for the development.

Session 2: Round Table Discussion on the specific issues of Digitalisation
Katrina Sichel, moderator , asked the panellists to introduce themselves and tell the audience what digitalisation means for them.

Ralph Appel, vice-president, FEANI , said digitalisation is not a new thing but rather an accelerator. The speed is increasing, the costs are decreasing and the data is growing. He feared there will be a coming together of a physical world and a digital world. This shows the interest of working together.

Katrina Sichel asked the next speaker about recruitment, life-long learning, wide skills versus specialisation and education.

Frederick Schulze-Spüntrup, deputy secretary-general, European Young Engineers, mentioned that he is doing research in a H2020 project on digitalising Europe. What is digitalisation? It is the past, because since we were born it was there. It is the present, since you need the skills to get a job. Also, it is the future, as we will implement digitalisation into our everyday lives.

Katrina Sichel said that to break the silo-thinking, there is a role for the European Young Engineers in fostering a good relationship with the older generations. Frederick Schulze-Spüntrup agreed that young generation should be listened to and can educate the older generation.

Mike Murphy, director of academic affairs, Digital and Learning Transformation, Dublin Institute of Technology and President, SEFI , noted that engineers are often blind to the implications of the power in technologies and the changes that the sector can bring about. He believed there was an ongoing evolution in digitalisation and not a revolution. Putting more content in the education system is at the expense of taking the time to reflect. Reflection is important to have in our education, to look at how digitalisation can be used in the future.

How can we change the education model?

Ralph Appel wondered how much more can be put in the hands of our young people. How can we change the education model? Students should be able to digest the information, take the time and build the competence to reflect upon digitalisation. We should come with something new in education, he said.

Katrina Sichel wondered what the importance is. Where can we add value, she asked.

Kasia Jurczak, member of cabinet, Commissioner Marianne Thyssen, said to be advising Commissioner Thyssen on vocational education and training, skills development and the future of work. Her work focuses on how technologies are changing the way we live and work. This work goes across different Commission services. A high-level expert group is being set up on the impact of digitalisation on the labour market, working conditions and more online working.

Katrina Sichel observed that the technology is there, but bringing it from narrow to mainstream is the challenge, she said to Murphy.

Mike Murphy said to see continuity, but there are indicators that while the use of technology in education has not caused a major disruptive effect yet, this is on the verge of occurring. He said the difficult challenge is to adapt a university more quickly to technology.

Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, director-general, DIGITALEUROPE , representing 36,000 companies, argued that the digital revolution is changing the way of doing business. She noted the major shift in the markets. The last ten years, more changes have occurred in the business model rather than in the technology aspect. We are an engineering society and we make good products, she said while referring to Europe.

The competition lies not in that aspect, but rather in the scale of market and scale of date. Competition has shifted from doing good products, to doing scale of market and scale of data. We should educate also data and market engineers and not only product engineers. The engineering profession will still be the key in this story, she said.

Any correlation between need to integrate more women in workforce and opportunities in recruitment

Katrina Sichel asked Bonefeld-Dahl if she observed any correlation between the need to integrate more women in the workforce and the opportunities in recruitment.

Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl said women are as skilled as men, so we need both women and men on deck to make these changes.

Ralph Appel argued that it should be about the goal of a product, instead of the product itself.

Brian Johnson, managing editor for ‘The Parliament Magazine’, asked whether universities can change within the rapidly evolving timeframe. Are there any organisations looking at new forms of education replacing traditional teaching?

Mike Murphy we are problem solvers as engineers. KU Leuve one of the oldest but also most innovative universities in the world. With the correct set of conditions, it can be done. Q to be asked: who is the customer for engineering education, then you can determine how things can change. Customer used to be industry. Other answers: the faculty likes to have researchers. The student is the customer in the 21st century. We need to educate life-long learners, he said.

Katrina Sichel asked the panellists what needs to be done in Europe?

Frederick Schulze-Spüntrup said students are prepared, they think. All of them are sure they need to keep learning for the rest of their lives. It is not only about digitalising the education but about teaching digital issues as well.

Push for vocational education

Kasia Jurczak explained that the last five years, Commissioner Thyssen has pushed for vocational education. This can be seen as an opportunity. Sometimes the vocational education does not have a great status in Europe or there is no possibility for students to flow from vocational education into university education. Public relations campaigns have been and are being done by the Commission, she said.

Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl said Germany is leading in having a loop with companies and the private sector. There are things being done, the Commission is putting huge amounts of money into building a Digital Europe. There is a framework we can build upon, she argued. Learning continues across someone’s career and she was in favour of short education programmes which are intermittently accompanied by practical experiences.

Maxime Cerutti, BUSINESSEUROPE , noted the demographic change and the ageing population. Future economic growth thus will lie upon increasing productivity. The US has better productivity growth. How can Europe improve?

Hans van der Loo, Chairman IIER, STEM Ambassador , argued that society is the customer of STEM education. We want more people with STEM skills to go to policy-making and he welcomed the remarks made by Kasia. He noted that the McKinsey study, referred to earlier, is 4 years old and the conclusion of why this misfit occurred was that the education establishment suffered from a lack of reality. He asked the panellists who will teach the new reality and how will we bring it into the educational reality?

A representative of the Chamber of engineers in Malta argued that policy needs to also include the academic side; it is not only about vocational training. Europe’s competitors China and India invest heavily in academic education. The academic education teaches students to think about problems in the future.

Opportunities in data as source of better services

Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl said that all she heard in Europe is problems and challenges. The minute a business goes down that road, it is dying. There are two things on productivity. All the productivity increase is nowadays in services. How can we develop the scaling up of data and what services can we bring to society? We can have better houses, public services, smarter fridges and she believed in the opportunities that are in data as the source of better services.

Katrina Sichel found this an important point, as people are not noticing the benefits of digitalisation in their life. Digitalisation it is rather developing in e-commerce.

Mike Murphy wondered how a platform to change education is created. There are more innovative universities nowadays. Some are in Latin America, some in China. Governments have money to spend and can direct it towards education. Ireland directs this more to private than to public colleges. Ireland should be more dedicating it to upskilling and reskilling. There is much productivity that can be gained, we need to line it up better, he agreed.

Kasia Jurczak said there is a misconception of what education can bring. Higher education and vocational education should be in a balance. Effective cooperation on addressing the skills gap is crucial, she added.

Frederick Schulze-Spüntrup talked about academic training. If he himself would not have done a vocational training, he would not have seen the problems that industry faces. It is important to create more permeability between university and companies. Why do the companies not come back to learn in the same room as the students? It sounds pretty simple but maybe it is hard, he said.
Ralph Appel thought that different faculties, as for example the business administration and the engineering faculties, can learn from each other.

The moderator then asked for a final wrap-up of ideas.

Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl said digitalisation is the biggest opportunity we will have of creating a better life.

Kasia Jurczak stressed to reap the benefits of the digital age, while being inclusive.

Mike Murphy hoped the advisory group will create opportunities, set learning outcomes, measure the trends better, determine where the money should go and, in general, will give feedback.
Frederick Schulze-Spüntrup summarised that digitalisation is coming and urged the participants to listen to the young engineers’ voice. Ralph Appel concluded that the fourth industrial revolution is coming and Nike is right: “just do it!” O'RiordanNewsEuropean Union,ICT,STEM
On September 11, 2018, the European Federation of National Engineering Associations (FEANI) in co-operation with 'The Parliament Magazine' organised a conference on engineering, digitalisation and the launch of a new platform, the Engineers Europe Advisory Group. By establishing an 'Engineers Europe Advisory Group' as a co-operative consortium of various stakeholders...