However, this kind of influence on political decision-makers tends to be the exception rather than the rule. While it’s generally possible to persuade experts and specialists to listen, doing so in political, media and social circles is getting harder and harder. “We’ve realized that the term ‘scientific’ is unfortunately being abused by a number of activist NGOs at the moment, which are actually just lobby groups at the end of the day,” Prof. Schotten says with some irritation. And then, he explains, people criticize ITG for not being neutral and independent because industry representatives are involved. In Prof. Schotten’s eyes, this is absurd: the great advantage of the VDE technical societies is precisely that they don’t just argue from some ivory tower, but provide a comprehensive view of topics from both a scientific and an industrial perspective. “What’s more, the industrial representatives at ITG are all technical experts who focus solely on the topic at hand and not on representing any corporate interests,” he insists. Whether it’s the Buildings Energy Act, the development of renewable energies and the necessary infrastructure or the digital transformation, Prof. Schotten says that ITG experts regularly end up discovering that implementing something is rather more complicated than was originally claimed. “When it comes to our goals, we all agree,” he emphasizes. “We simply have to plan it out so it all works. And for that to happen, we need to talk to everyone!”
Attracting and supporting young talent, networking female experts
Speaking of things working, a crucial aspect of that is the people involved. More precisely, that means engineers in the fields of electrical and information technology, which we will need more of in the future in order to actually implement all the desired changes and transformations. Unfortunately, things are trending in the wrong direction in this regard. The number of corresponding students has been falling for years, and the situation is now dramatic. Dr. Damian Dudek has made it his mission to change this. In the middle of last year, the 47-year-old replaced Dr. Volker Schanz, who had previously been the managing director of ITG for 33 years. His career has taken him to various research institutions. “In my professional life, I’ve built up a large network I now want to use to inspire young people to choose electrical and information technology,” says Dr. Dudek. Winning over new talent is the order of the day, he stresses, and also a personal concern. Among other things, he has proved this with a VDE position paper he initiated even before taking office. The paper, titled “A Lack of Young Talent in Electrical Engineering and Information Technology? – We’re Tackling It!”, shows what needs to be done to counteract the lack of experts and convert more young talent again. It also makes specific suggestions, such as for a national, multi-stage action plan to launch the image update these degree subjects urgently need.
Dr. Dudek believes there is a great deal of catching up to do – particularly in supporting women (“The percentage of females in our field is catastrophic,” he laments), which is why he has already co-founded a networking group for female experts called “Women in ITG”. His aim is to bring more women on to the committees, as well. “We need more female role models so that women become more visible in electrical engineering and information technology,” he points out, citing ITG management board members Dr. Yvonne Weitsch from Rohde & Schwarz as an example. There's also Dr. Britta Buchholz, chair of the ETG management board, and Prof. Amelie Hagelauer, deputy chair of the management board of GMM.
Individually strong – but even stronger together
ITG is engaged in lively ongoing discussions with both of these technical societies. That said, they talk about more than the lack of experts and gaining new talent because there is plenty of overlap in technical terms, too. They produce studies and organize events together, and even have joint technical groups. “We actually work well with all the other technical societies,” Dr. Dudek affirms. He goes on to explain that information technology is vital everywhere, whether it’s in energy networks, medical technology, Industry 4.0 or microelectronics. This is why it’s such a crucial advantage for the various specialist areas to be able to ultimately reunite under the umbrella of VDE, in spite of their different technical orientations.
Martin Schmitz-Kuhl is a freelance author from Frankfurt am Main, Germany, and an editor of VDE dialog.