A bridge too far?

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The world of engineering faces an uncertain future, but it is hoped that EU legislation could help build more solid foundations.

Look around you and you’ll be reminded of the role engineering plays in our everyday lives. Engineers help design the bridges and roads we drive on, the phones we use and apartment blocks we live in. But do we really appreciate their contribution to society?

According to an alliance of engineering federations the answer is a resounding No.

That is why the seven engineers federations, in an unprecedented show of strength, have recently joined forces in a campaign they hope will lay the foundations for a brighter future for their profession.

In November they converged on Brussels for a ‘European Engineers’ Day’ conference where many issues of concern were highlighted. One particular area of current concern for engineers is that of labour mobility – the ability of an engineer to ply their trade in an EU member state other than his/her own.

That is where the new EU legislation comes in.

International mobility is now seen as a normal part of the career for many of us but, in the past, a fully qualified professional in one EU country would not necessarily have met the requirements to practice in another member state unless he/she had completed a training course in that country.

EU rules on what is called “mutual recognition of qualifications” were introduced to overcome this.

The Professional Qualifications Directive is supposed to make it easier for engineers (and others) to have their professional qualifications recognized in another member state.

The European Engineer’s Day conference was attended by some 150 participants from industry, academia and professional organizations. Participants called for urgent action at EU and national state level to address the shortage in engineering skills.

“If we are to compete in the global race,” argued Dane Flemming Pedersen, of the European Federation of Engineering Consultancy Assocations (EFCA), “we need to equip our people with the skills to adapt, innovate and flourish.”

The European Engineer’s Day event was told that meeting many of today’s challenges and environmental changes will require “unprecedented” levels of public funding and some, such as Austrian chartered engineer Klaus Thurriedl, of the European Council of Civil Engineers, has called for greater investment and resources both at EU and national level in order to boost future engineering innovation.

He says EU and policymakers have an important role to play in supporting the engineering profession, adding: “The success of the European economy will depend upon our ability to unlock the potential of the SME-sector and our endeavours to support engineering entrepreneurship in our countries.”

No less a figure than Neil Armstrong said that if any one of the engineering breakthroughs of the 20th century were removed, our world would be a very different – and much less hospitable – place.

EU policymakers, are you listening?