Germany fails to train and retain enough electrical engineers, despite high status, solid pay and good career opportunities

At first glance, a 7.5 percent increase in the number of new electronics and IT students in Germany doesn’t look too bad.

But when compared with the growth in demand for engineers in these key areas, it is clear that Germany will continue to suffer a growing shortage of qualified electronics and IT experts in coming years.

That shortage may impact the country’s auto industry as it tries to gain a lead in the global race to develop electric cars.

Like most industries, carmakers depend heavily on IT and communications expertise and this dependence is likely to grow.

“The whole automotive sector will have to learn the language of electrical engineering,” said Hans Heinz Zimmer, who heads Germany’s electronics industry association, the VDE.

Presenting a VDE study on Germany’s growing shortage of electrical engineers, Zimmer said the  industry needs 12,000 new engineers this year just to keep up with demand. This year’s 8,300 graduates barely outnumber the 7,500 engineers who are retiring.

Another problem is that anywhere from 17 percent to 30 percent of all engineering students in Germany are foreigners, many of whom return to their home countries when they complete their studies. Between 40 percent and 50 percent of students, moreover, fail to complete their courses and drop out.

The VDE expect the number of graduates to stay below 9,000 in 2012 and 2013 as well.

Underscoring the importance of electronics and IT, Zimmer noted that 80 percent of German exports are dependent on these industries. IT and communication technology and micro electronics, he said, are “key enablers” for all applications used in industry.

With regard to electric vehicles, Zimmer said the battery and the electrical powertrain represent 70 percent of the value creation. Yet, in an international comparison, Germany and the rest of Europe fall substantially behind Japan and the US in areas such as electricity storage.

The VDE chief said the country’s shortage of engineers is the main reason for the perceived lack of innovation in Germany. And he expressed strong concern about the period through 2020.

Said Zimmer: “Just as our engineering expertise should be starting in important future markets, we could be suffering from a shortage ofthe highly qualified engineers needed to do so.”