Among those who do start a degree in this area, many switch courses, move to a vocational traineeship or drop out.
Schanz: The number of students who do not complete the degree has now reached a sorry record of over 60%. We can’t afford that given the fast-growing shortage of electrical engineers. So we have to investigate what exactly the reason is. My suspicion is that there are new factors at play, such as the age of the students. People can now take their school-leaving exams a year earlier in nearly all German states. These days, young people sometimes already start university at age 17 or 18. That means they often lack the necessary maturity. Even a small emotional setback can lead them to give up their degree course.
According to your calculations, there is a shortfall in electrical engineers of around 11,700 a year. So far, it’s been possible to fill this by recruiting from abroad.
Schanz: But the demand for electrical engineers is going up and supply is going down. The gap has never been so wide. The foreign electrical engineers we recruit mainly come from other industrialized countries. But these countries are increasingly facing the same demographic change that we are, and they also need more and more engineers to work on digitalization, the shift to green mobility and the expansion of renewable energy. So they are unlikely to want to keep providing us with as many electrical engineers in future. If we can’t fill the gap with our own young people, then companies won’t be able to fulfill their orders. That could endanger progress on the big issues of our time.
The German Economic Institute (IW) recorded a record number of unfilled positions in STEM subjects this spring. Careers in energy and electricity account for the biggest shortfall of 82,500 and IT professions for the next-biggest of 60,600. Energy, electricity and IT seem to be the biggest worries on the German labor market.
Schanz: They are. Our world is becoming more electrical, digital and sustainable. So electrical engineering and information technology will become an even bigger part of every area of our lives. That suggests that this is where the most new jobs will be – and that there are excellent future career prospects.
Computer science is the best comparison subject. Electrical engineering and information technology are falling far behind it in the competition for students.
Schanz: Computer science is in a better position and finds it easier to recruit new students. It feels like we hear the word “digitalization” a hundred times a day, and most people associate it with computer science. It’s the same with terms like smartphones, tablets and laptops. Young people find computer science sexy, whereas they think electrical engineering and information technology are stuffy and old-fashioned. Industry representatives have not managed to look at their big competitor – computer science – and modernize their own image.