Industry is moving toward automation and digitalization in the modern world and Estonia is in desperate need of industrial and product design engineers who could bring new ideas and introduce new technologies, Leo Rummel writes.
A recently published labor needs monitoring and forecasts system OSKA survey "A look at the future needs of professional labor and skills in the processing industry" points to a major problem that has become especially acute in the coronavirus crisis and its economic counterpart – shortage of engineers and other graduates of technical subjects has become a serious hindrance for the recovery and future growth of the Estonian economy.
The industrial sector has served as the backbone of the Estonian economy for a long time. It has been the largest employer (data from Statistics Estonia suggests 18 percent of all employed persons worked in industry in 2019) and yielded the biggest part of the domestic economy (15 percent of GDP in 2019 – Statistics Estonia).
The global trends in industry are for automation and digitalization and Estonia desperately needs industrial and product design engineers to bring new ideas and introduce new technologies in order to keep up.
The Estonian industrial sector is already short on engineers as our universities have been producing fewer technical specialties graduates than our companies need for years, which fact has hindered their development.
There is no improvement on the horizon either. The OSKA study found that the number of new technical students has fallen drastically in the last five years (comparing admissions in 2014/2015 and in 2019/2020): by 26 percent in technical subjects and 47 percent in industrial ones.
How to solve the problem? We need to focus on the future and find ways of sparking young people's interest in exact sciences and technology. Unlike many other countries, Estonia lacks a major science and technology discovery center that would be the best place for peaking the technological interest of children and youths and showcase Estonian feats of engineering.
The Estonian Association of Engineers has proposed the project for the Estonian Science and Technology Center NOBEL to the Riigikogu Cultural Affairs Committee that unlike several other regional projects competing for the same funding would have a nationwide scope and effect.
Of course, the center alone would not be enough to solve the greatest challenge Estonia faces in the coming years – shortage of young people with technical education.
We would also need to support the creation of new science and technology clubs for schoolchildren, update curricula to introduce more practical engineering assignments and boost the prestigiousness of the engineering profession in the eyes of young people. But creating the NOBEL center would serve as the first step on the road to solving the problem.
We like to think of Estonia as a high-tech and development-centered country, while we need to take immediate action to make sure Estonia would have enough engineers in the future to ensure the longevity of the Estonian technological culture.
Editor: Marcus Turovski