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EU policymakers urged to support European engineers

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SONY DSCEuropean Union policymakers have been urged to support European engineers in addressing a range of critical issues. These include raising public awareness of the profession and the need for "unprecedented" levels of public funding.

Major European engineering federations made the appeal at a European Engineers’ Day conference in Brussels on Thursday (20 November).

It is the first time the federations have come together to make such an appeal.

One major topic for the event – attended by 150 participants from industry, academia and professional organizations – focused on how EU policies can help the profession to meet expectations of society.

But the alliance, representing millions of engineers throughout Europe, also highlighted other "critical" issues, including a serious engineering skills shortages in many European countries, including in Germany which has a reported shortfall of 60,000 engineers.

The UK faces a shortfall of more than 81,000 people with engineering skills in the workforce.

The event heard that the shortage reinforces an urgent need to inspire more young people to take up careers in the profession.

The one-day conference, the first time so many engineering federations had met at the same time, also addressed other topical issues, including recognition of engineers´ professional qualifications and more EU-wide mobility within the profession itself.

Despite increased labour  mobility it was said some engineers are unwilling to leave their own country to work in another one.

Dane Flemming Pedersen, who heads the European Federation of Engineering Consultancy Associations (EFCA), reminded the packed audience that engineers design and operate large projects and "make society a better place to live".

He added: "Therefore, in a globalized world, internationalization and cross-border recognition of engineering qualifications are important and vital to forge a better future for society.  The importance of quality assessment of their initial and continuing education needs to be recognised."

His comments were endorsed by Greek-based engineering consultant Vassilis Economopoulos, who spoke passionately about the "internationalization" of engineering, adding:"International mobility is now a normal part of an engineer's career and the profession has developed tools to facilitate this."

The discussion was told that new EU rules on mutual recognition of qualifications had been introduced to help overcome this.

Jose Manuel Vieira, president of the European Federation of National Engineering Associations, endorsed hopes that the EU directive will improve things.

He also addressed the profession´s "vocational problem", adding, "The simple fact of the matter is that, increasingly, young people do not see engineering as a career option.There is across Europe a lack of engineers and this is something we need to address."

There were also calls on member states for speedy implementation of the new EU Public Procurement Directive, part of a package of measures that will reform public sector procurement across the EU and which must be implemented in member states by 17 April 2016.

Martin Frohn, from the European Commission's Market Directorate, told the debate that the aim of the new EU legislation was to "simplify" procurement procedures and Pedersen "challenged" member states to implement the directive into national law as "quickly as possible".

Due to the "high complexity" of engineering services and their technologies,it can be difficult for procuring authorities to compare the content of offers, which the alliance says can lead to decisions based on the lowest price only.

This, the conference heard, could be contrary to the interests and intentions of consumers  and lead to a lack of quality as well as unfulfilled expectations in design and exaggerated unforeseen costs.

The conference was told that everyone is "surrounded" by engineering products and engineers design and operate large projects that "make society a better place to live.

But meeting many of today's challenges and environmental changes requires "unprecedented" levels of public funding and other speakers, including Austrian  chartered engineer Klaus Thurriedl, from the European Council of Civil Engineers, called for greater investment and resources from policymakers at both at EU and national level in order to help engineers innovate in the future.

He said the EU and policymakers had an important role to play in supporting the profession, adding: "The success of the European economy will depend upon our ability to unlock the potential of the SME-sector and our endeavours to support engineering entrepreneurship in our countries."

Another key message to emerge from the event was the need to raise  general awareness of the profession, not least to tackle the problem of declining numbers of young people entering engineering.

Taking part in a roundtable debate which brought the conference to a close, Ulrika Lindstrand, from Sweden, said it was "vitally important" to raise "public knowledge and appreciation" of engineers as well as their education, professional concerns and "capacity to solve the arising problems in a changing world".

She said: "You get the feeling that we engineers have become almost invisible in society.  The public do not seem aware of the good work the profession does."

She added: "Public understanding of the engineering profession and its underlying science are important to support the calls for funding, as well as to enhance the prospect for successful adoption of innovative technical solutions."

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