Lack of trained tech staff could scupper energy transition: FD


A lack of tech students is threatening to put the brakes on the energy transition in the Netherlands, industry chiefs have warned.

Electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, sustainable energy studies, information technology and data science are the areas of expertise most needed to carry out the transition, but student numbers are down across the board, an analysis of university and HBO student enrolment by the Financieele Dagblad has found.

The number of students choosing a career as data analysts and engineers, for example, has fallen ‘dramatically over the last few years, the FD found, with an average drop of 17% in electrical engineering and a 9% fall in mechanical engineering at HBO level.

Universities, too, are struggling to recruit students. Computer science enrolment at the University of Twente, for example, is down by 59%, and the number of civil engineering students dropped by 23%.

For the coming year, fewer than a dozen students opted for a two-year mechanical engineering course at HBO level while its full-time variant in Utrecht attracted only a few dozen.

There are currently 23,000 vacancies for the professionals most needed in the technical sector and 100,000 in the sector as a whole.

Smart systems

Apart from skilled mbo level workers, who would be employed to lay cables and install solar panels, the industry is in dire need of professionals with a higher level of education who know how to handle smart systems and data analysis, Doekle Terpstra, chair of sector organisation Techniek Nederland told the paper.

‘We also need university and HBO trained people to boost the innovation needed to propel the transition,’ he said.

One of the reasons for the decline in enrolments is that youngsters are veering away from scientific subjects despite attempts to promote them.

Another reason is a lack of staff further up the ladder. Twente university, for example, had to limit the number of computer science students for lack of teaching staff.

In a reaction the education ministry said it was aware of falling student numbers in crucial study areas. More money will be allocated to HBO colleges and the cabinet will be presenting new plans to tackle the problem this summer.

It will also continue to finance more work training courses, allowing students to go to work as they study and which have been proliferating.

However, training more people is only one of the solutions for the lack of technical staff. Retraining, innovation and good employment conditions also play a role, an education spokesman told the paper.

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