Friday, 5 October 2007

Engineering Skills Shortage in Europe

Appendix A to FEANI Position PaperEngineering Skills Shortage in Europ

Country specific reports about the shortage of engineering skills and what has been done to counter the national shortages



Slovenia is facing a lack of highly qualified, skilled workers in the maths, science and technology fields, and the trends are worrying. The fast economic growth in 2006 and 2007 revealed that the skills shortage became one of the most important barriers that might hinder the future economic growth and development. The problem will increase due to negative demographic trends and stagnation of students. Changing values in society have also influenced a smaller interest in maths, science and technology studies.

Skills shortage endangers Slovenia’s economic growth and development

In the first quarter of 2007, Slovenia’s economy, fuelled by flourishing exports, domestic spending and investments, expanded at an annual rate of 7,2%. The fast economic growth, not surprisingly, indicated the structural worker shortage. In the second quarter of 2007, one third of companies in the manufacturing industry claimed they lacked skilled workers. Moreover, it was the highest skilled workforce shortage since the independence in 1991. It was more than 50% higher than at the same time in 2006 and three times higher than at the last economic growth peak in 1999. The worker shortage had increased slowly since mid nineties until 2006 when it grew faster than within the entire decade before. The same happened with the general worker shortage, where 15% of companies in the manufacturing industry reported the shortage. Although the demand was much smaller then for the skilled workforce, it also grew enormously as the shortage in the second quarter of 2007 was three times bigger than in the same period of 2006 (Source: Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia).

The skilled worker shortage has become one of the biggest obstacles in sustaining Slovenia’s fast economic growth and development. The problem has been well known within the IT sector where companies have tried for years to attract skilled workers from South Eastern and Eastern Europe. As the legal immigration of professionals was not sufficient, some IT companies have been forced to establish branches in the countries of Western Balkans in order to employ local skilled workforce.

Recently, other sectors have also been facing the skilled worker shortage, especially amongst the engineers. As the manufacturing and civil engineering sectors are the main pillars of the current economic growth, the shortage of engineers might have a severe negative impact on their future performance. The number of workers employed in the civil engineering occupations grew 21% in 2006. The growth was also high in other engineering occupations (8% on average) and computer professionals (13%). As a result of increasing demand, the unemployment amongst engineers (6,4%) was lower than in the total workforce (11,1%), excluding self employed and farmers. Moreover, the lowest unemployment was in electrical engineering (2,8%), civil engineering (3,3%), and electronics and telecommunications (4,9%). (Sources: Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia; Employment Service of Slovenia)

Decreasing interest for math, science and technology education

The enrolment of students in the tertiary education reveals the educational structural gap in Slovenia that might endanger the country’s future economic development. The number of all students enrolled in the tertiary education in Slovenia in the period between 1998 and 2004 grew 7,4% annually. The annual growth in the maths, science and technology tertiary education was 6,1% and decreased over the period to 3,7% in 2004. The compound annual growth in the same period was much smaller in the engineering tertiary education (4,7%) and over the period declined from 13,2% to 0,3%. On the other hand, the highest growth was recorded in the computing education, where the number of students grew 10,8% annually and the growth was 16,5% in 2004.

The structural changes are clearly seen from the figures on graduates by the education field in the period between 1998 and 2004 (Figure 1). The share of engineering, manufacturing and construction graduates in the tertiary education graduates decreased from 19,1% in 1998 to 15% in 2004 (12,6% in 2006). Moreover, the share of math, science and technology graduates, which decreased from 23,8% in 1998 to 18,7% in 2004 (16,2% in 2006) was significantly smaller than in the EU-27 or EA-13 (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Graduates in Slovenia by Field of Education
Source: Eurostat

Figure 2: Graduates (ISCED 5-6) in maths, science and technology fields - as % of all fields
Notes: Technology means computing, engineering, manufacturing, construction; 
EA means Euro Area.
Source: Eurostat.

The engineering education and professions in Slovenia have become less attractive, although the major contributing sectors to the GDP and economic growth are still those depending on the engineering skills. However, due to the structural changes in the Slovenian economy on the one hand and much deeper changes in values in society on the other hand since independence in 1991, the most preferred studies have become those in the field of social science, business and law. The maths, science and technology studies have been less and less popular. Even more so, as they have a stigma of being difficult studies.

Once highly respected engineering professions have lost their esteem also because of relatively low salaries compared to some other professions in the health and public administration sectors. The unions representing doctors, lawyer and public administration occupations are very strong and have secured high salaries for their members. On the other hand, engineers are not so well organised and do not have any engineering union. Salaries of engineers may therefore vary significantly and depend on the industry sector. However, the average salary is significantly lower than in comparable professions in the public sector. A comparison of data on graduates and employment confirms that maths, science and technology professions are becoming less attractive, as more and more graduates later work in other professions, especially in sales, marketing, management and public administration.

Lack of active policies to tackle a skills shortage problem

Slovenia opened the labour market by joining the EU. The immigration trends have been positive, yet not sufficient to compensate for the lack of domestic workforce. Unfortunately, only a small share of immigrants represents the skilled workforce. Slovenia does not have any active policy of attracting skilled workforce, although there have been several initiatives, especially within the IT industry. On the other hand, there is relatively high immigration of less qualified workforce, especially in the civil engineering sector and for season jobs.

Lower salaries than in more developed EU member states and high taxes retreat highly skilled workforce from abroad. There have been several initiatives to lower taxes, but the Government has not made any significant changes. The macroeconomic environment remains less attractive than in some other EU member states. The Government is aware that the lack of engineers is becoming a serious barrier for industry to secure its future growth, but has yet to take any decisive action to improve the situation.


Both, companies and the public sector will face the engineering skills shortage in the coming years. The supply of new engineers will decrease due to negative demographic trends and stagnation of students. Slovenia has to reconsider its policies to increase the number of highly qualified, skilled workers, especially engineers. It will have to take proactive steps in the education policy and promotion of engineering skills. Policies and actions are also required to provide better training and qualifications for engineers, as well as lifelong learning to keep them employable.

Changes are required in the fiscal policy in order to reduce the taxation of salaries and make the country competitive to attract the best human resources from abroad. The changes are also required in the immigration policy to attract more engineers and other highly qualified, skilled workers as Slovenia cannot secure its future growth on its own resources.

Slovenian engineers will have to be proactive, too. They should follow examples of countries like Denmark or Germany and build strong engineering associations to promote their professions. 

(Published in Annex to FEANI Position Paper on Engineering Skills Shortage in Europeapproved by General Assembly on 5 October 2007)