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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Germany has a reputation for precision engineering. Just think of high-performance cars like BMW or Mercedes or Porsche. But to create products like that you need engineers. Germany used to have lots of them. No more. Kyle James reports from Wolfsburg, Germany that interest in engineering is waning.
KYLE JAMES: Germany is a place many people would think of as the Land of Engineering. But it seems to be having a problem when it comes to engineers.
ANTJE LIENERT: Not with the engineers themselves, they are great, but we have a lack of them. We have a lack of about 18,000 engineers at the moment.
Antje Lienert is with the German Association of Engineers, one of the groups trying to figure out how to fill a growing gap between supply and demand.
The engineer shortage is threatening Germany’s reputation as a technology leader. A reputation built on the shoulders of giants like Gottlieb Daimler, Carl Benz and Carl Wilhelm Siemens.
LIENERT: I think we have a little bit a problem with the image of engineers at the moment. Our young people want to study more communication and journalism and stuff.
A survey ranking preferred professions found engineering in 7th place, behind jobs like pastor or elementary school teacher. The sinking prestige is reflected in the number of college graduates in engineering fields, says Benjamin Burde. He heads a non-profit funded by German industry that’s trying to replenish the engineering ranks. A decade ago there were 43,000 engineering grads, now there are about 33,000.
BENJAMIN BURDE: We have 10,000 people who are now missing on the market and it’s a market which is rising. A third of companies in Germany say we need more people who work in this field.
His organization and a handful of others backed by German industry have decided the way to tackle the problem is to convince students that science and engineering are cool.
One of the places trying to do that is Phaeno. It’s a new science center built just across the street from Volkswagen’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.
Here young people can play with exhibits that make science concepts entertaining. The idea is that they’ll be so taken they’ll want to make a career of it.
Other organizations are sending executives into schools to talk about the joys of engineering, holding science camps, or sending rolling labs out across the country — all to get kids fired up. Because, according to Peter Rösner, Germany’s economic future depends on it.
PETER RÖSNER: Germany is earning very much money from these engineering sciences, and if you don’t have enough engineers, you can’t earn enough money. Maybe these companies will go somewhere else where they have these engineers, India, China.
At the science center’s workshop, kids aren’t exactly learning mechanical engineering, but they are putting together models with tiny motors. Nine-year-old Aziz was impressed.
So he’s discovered science can be fun, but is it enough to point him toward that as a career choice?
No, he says, it looks too hard. He plans on being a policeman.
In Wolfsburg, Germany, I’m Kyle James for Marketplace.
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