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Does electrical engineering have an image problem?

The job outlook for electrical engineers is secure, even in times of crisis. Yet interest in study courses continues to decline. The industry association issues a warning.

Germany is running out of electrical engineers—that’s the finding of the new job market study from the VDE. In order to tackle the herculean tasks of the energy transition, digitalization, Industry 4.0 and electric mobility, 11,000 additional engineers will need to be recruited from other countries in this year alone. However, there is an increasing threat that the source will run dry, as this shortage is now a global problem. After all, the worldwide expansion of chip capacities triggered by the chip crisis calls for tens of thousands of additional specialists.

Eightfold.ai reports that the wafer fabs in the U.S. alone will lack around 90,000 additional skilled workers by 2025. The Wall Street Journal reports an average shortage of 27,000 jobs in the semiconductor industry every month, and even the South China Morning Post reports a chronic shortage of scientific and technical specialists.

Shortage of electrical engineers in Germany

In Germany, around 8,600 electrical engineers will quit their study course this year. Before that, however, the majority of first-year students had already thrown in the towel. According to VDE calculations (VDE committee “Study, Career and Society” 2019), electrical engineering disciplines are struggling with dropout rates of almost 60 percent, in some cases even up to 70 percent. The reason for this is a lack of basic knowledge in subjects like mathematics.

Meanwhile, the VDE reports that there is a need for 20,000 electrical engineers that cannot be met with unemployed people, because they are in short supply. After all, full employment has been prevalent for years.

Low percentage of women

And no matter how interesting activities in the field of the energy industry, electric mobility or Industry 4.0 may be—the proportion of women in first semesters in electrical engineering and information technology is only 17 percent. According to the MINT fall report 2021 from the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, the percentage of women with engineering jobs in energy and electrical technology rose from 7.6 (2012) to just 9.8 (2021). Degree courses such as “regenerative energies” or “medical technology” hold significantly more appeal for women.

And, last but not least, a not insignificant share of aspiring electrical engineers comes from other countries. For example, according to an estimate by the VDE, Chinese students make up around ten percent of students in Germany. The majority of these graduates return to their home country after completing their studies. That said, between the fourth quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2021, overall employment of foreign STEM workers in academic occupations increased by 133.7 percent and reached around 162,700 employees last year, a record high since documentation began in late 2012.

Overall, the career path of an electrical engineer no longer seems attractive enough for young people, while computer science is enjoying growing popularity. One reason for this could be that IT is more strongly associated with modern topics such as artificial intelligence, Big Data and embedded systems.

Knowledge base

VDE: Job market for electrical engineers 2022—numbers, facts, conclusions
DIHK: Skilled workers report 2021, November 2021 (PDF, 2.0 MB)
IW Köln (Cologne Institute for Economic Research): MINT fall report 2021 (PDF, 6.5 MB)