Prof. Dr.-Ing. Udo Ungeheuer: High potentials wanted – Engineering in Germany

Imagine an employment ad: We are looking for an entrepreneurial personality who has long-term vision, is able to prepare business plans and pursue marketing strategies, can lead staff and manage a company. Who do you think would be the right candidate for this position? A manager who can present innovations convincingly? An entrepreneur? A marketing specialist who creates campaigns? My suggestion: assign the job to an engineer!


There is no doubt that engineers are some of the most sought-after experts today. They are highly regarded spe­cialists in their field as well as all-rounders. With their profound knowledge and excellent ideas they are able to drive the technology location Germany forward. More and more high potentials from science and technology are wanted for overcoming major and current challen­ges – and the need for them will increase even more in the coming years.

But the job description of an engineer is changing: in the 21st century, an engineer must be able to keep up with the rapid technological progress in an increasingly interlinked world economy. He or she must be able to solve complex, multidisciplinary problems. The engineer of today and tomorrow should be able to develop into an innovation manager and entrepreneurial personality. A clear indicator for this is the fact that more and more board members of market-listed companies have an education in engineering. What is obvious is that nowadays every engineer needs an international perspective in order to contribute to the improvement of human living conditions worldwide. He cannot limit his thinking to just technological issues. Instead, she or he has to follow a holistic approach and not disregard economical, ecological and social aspects. In many cases, against this background, those who decide to become an engineer are high potentials.

And much awaits the high potentials: some of the biggest challenges of our time include the topics energy and resource efficiency. As a resource-poor national economy, Germany is reliant on its engineers and technical professionals. The provision of energy plays a key role in this regard. Only when it is possible to generate energy in an environmentally friendly manner can we halt climate change and its accompanying effects.

Today, earth’s resources are being used like never before, despite the fact that there is only a limited availability. So the goal must be to reduce our economy’s dependence on imported raw materials and detach the consumption of resources from economic growth. This detachment can only be achieved by technical and technological innovations. Well-trained and imaginative engineers are desperately needed for this.

Other potentials for value creation and employment are seen in the usage, storing and generation of energies, for example in photovoltaics. Already today it is possible for stamp-sized nano-generators to convert smallest move­ments into energy. What do we need to master these challenges? In the future, who will promote new topics and know how to correctly assess and implement them? The answer is as simple as it is fundamental: engineers and technical professionals of tomorrow.

Apart from creativeness, their most important requirement will be having a basic technical understanding. We need children and adolescents who once again have a greater interest in technology, sciences and information technology and want to base their professional career on these interests. For years, the VDI has advocated establishing a mandatory, consistent and nationwide uniform learning about technology in all types of schools and grades. Establishing a technical education early on in the educational chain is an important factor in securing plenty of skilled professionals.

Germany is already struggling with a shortage of engin­eers and professionals. This situation will worsen in the fu­­ture. So what can we do? With that said, Germany cannot and will not abandon one group: the female engi­neers. Their potential must be encouraged! Another solution is hiring engineers and professionals from abroad. Be­­cause: de­­spite a currently weakening economy, mi­­gration of professionals in the engineering sector strengthens the business location Germany in the long term. The demographic change will ensure that a disproportionate amount of older engineers will retire from professional life in the coming years – despite a growing number of graduates, the increasing demand that results from this cannot be fully covered. Therefore, securing the services of competent engineers from abroad is very important for Germany in the long run.

However, it is also important for German engineers and especially high potentials to think outside the box. They should go abroad, in order to allow the integration of the experiences they acquired into their later work. VDI sup­­ports a mobile solution to allow our engineers to actually be in action throughout Europe and attract talented experts to Germany: With the engineerING card, a profes­sional ID card for engineers, it is easily possible for the card holder to work abroad. Documents on university degrees, professional experiences and further trainings are reviewed and documented according to internationally accepted rules before being transferred to the card. The engineerING card can be an important component in convincing your future employer.

The author is president of The Association of German Engineers (VDI) and was chairman of Schott AG until 2013. Udo Ungeheuer studied Mechanical Engineering at RWTH Aachen and earned an Engi­neering degree in 1979. In 1985, he earned a doctorate in Engineering. In his doctorate he covered the prob­lems of the development of complex product and production structures in the machine tool industry and plant engineering. In 2006, Dr. Ungeheuer was appointed honorary professor at the University of Applied Sciences Mainz.