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Worrying decline in engineering student numbers

In the coming years, demographics, digitalization and climate protection will significantly increase the demand for employees in engineering and IT professions. The number of vacancies in engineering professions is high despite the economic downturn.


Economic slowdown is reflected in the labor market

According to calculations by the Federal Statistical Office in January 2024, gross domestic product is likely to have fallen by 0.3% in 2023. This severe economic slowdown will also have a (short-term) impact on the labor market in the engineering and IT professions.

In the third quarter of 2023, the total number of vacancies fell by 4.7% year-on-year to 165,200. This is still well above the pre-coronavirus level (2019: 128,900). These figures show that the engineering profession remains attractive. "From battery production to wind power - engineers are needed everywhere if we want to actively shape Germany as a place to live. The still high number of vacancies is unsatisfactory for me. The engineering profession is the job of the future. The focus has always been on meaningfulness and added value for society," says VDI Director Adrian Willig.

There are major differences between the individual job categories compared to the previous year. For example, the number of vacancies in the engineering professions of technical research and production control increased by 9.0% and in the engineering professions of mechanical and automotive engineering by 2.0% year-on-year. On the other hand, the number of vacancies in the civil engineering professions fell by 5.3 percent and in the computer science professions by 10.8 percent.


The challenge of developing students' skills

The monitor also sheds light on developments at universities. The number of first-year students in engineering and computer science dropped by an alarming 12.5 percent in the first semester of higher education. Over the past ten years, the fields of mechanical/process engineering and electrical engineering have seen a sharp drop in the number of first-year students, while computer science has seen a significant increase. This development is in stark contrast to the increasing demands of a changing society. "This trend should alarm us, as we urgently need qualified specialists in these professional fields in order to meet Germany's future requirements," warns VDI Director Adrian Willig.

The current Engineering Monitor also sees challenges in the skills development of 15-year-old pupils, which puts additional pressure on the outlook for the next generation of engineers and computer scientists. While the average mathematical skills of 15-year-olds increased continuously from PISA-2000 to PISA-2012, skills fell from PISA-2012 to PISA-2018 and then fell even more sharply until PISA-2022. The number of 15-year-old students with high skills in mathematics almost halved from 17% (PISA-2012) to 8.6% in PISA-2022. Scores also deteriorated in the natural sciences. "To counteract this, measures are needed to get young people interested in engineering and computer science-related content. Joint efforts by educational institutions, politics and society are necessary to increase the attractiveness of the engineering profession and attract qualified young talent," explains Adrian Willig. "The VDI is on the move here with its young talent activities, such as the VDini Clubs or Future Pilots."

Link to the VDI/IW Engineer Monitor 3rd quarter 2023