Talent for the workplace of the future

Growing demand for technicians for mobility transition

If one thing became clear during the New Energy Forum, it is that the energy transition and everything around it is becoming mainstream. So much so that it is difficult for companies in this field to find sufficient staff. It’s no news that the installation industry can barely handle the work. What about companies in the mobility transition? The work of car mechanics, to take just one obvious example, is changing rapidly due to the rapid electrification of the Dutch vehicle fleet. Doesn’t that cause any problems? And can the northern companies that are at the forefront of developments find well-trained people? The training courses for, for example, drone pilots or hyperloop operators are not yet or hardly available.

Representatives from education (Anke de Poorte, Hanze University of Applied Sciences and Dick van der Plas, Noorderpoort) and business (Egbert Swierts, Drone Delivery Services; Stefan Marges, European Hyperloop Center and Aldwin Oechies, Holthausen Clean Technology) debated these and other questions, led by Auke Hoekstra (TU Eindhoven). Well, it never really became a debate; the participants agreed too much for that.

The three companies differ slightly in their stage of development. The European Hyperloop Center is still very much a research project; the need for personnel mainly concerns university graduates and HBO graduates. Holthausen, on the other hand, is about to scale up the production of their hydrogen trucks and is mainly looking for MBO and HBO students. Drone Delivery Services is somewhere in between. All in all, this quickly amounts to a few hundred vacancies in the coming year.

Today’s students ask for social relevance

It has been a challenge for decades now to get enough students, especially girls, to choose technology. Anke de Poorte sees a great opportunity in the popularity of themes such as sustainability and energy transition. Hanze University of Applied Sciences now has two minors in this area, both of which are very popular. Dick van der Plas agrees that the image of some degree programs is changing and improving in many respects as a result of the transition. Less diesel, more electronics and screens. And, moreover, with a clear social relevance, something that today’s students find very important.

On the other hand, there are more socially relevant options in the technical area. Earthquake-proof building, water treatment, circular design. According to the participants, this is only an advantage. “You have to arouse interest in technology in primary and secondary education. The fact that there are a lot of ‘sexy’ technical courses can contribute enormously to this. The choice for a specific technical training will only follow later.”

Focus on learning ability

Discussion leader Hoekstra wonders whether the speed of developments is not a problem. After all, there is a delay of at least six years between setting up a program and the first graduation. Both educators in the panel are very aware of this. They are therefore increasingly focusing on developing the most crucial skill of all: learning ability. The Institute for Engineering of the Hanze University of Applied Sciences is therefore completely switching to problem-based education. The Noorderpoort also works on a project basis as much as possible, based on real questions from the business community.

The companies are realistic enough to accept that the educators are lagging behind their needs – that’s a price you pay when working with brand new technology. Holthausen, which builds the hydrogen-powered Hyzon trucks in Winschoten, is currently recruiting dozens of mechanics at VMBO and MBO level. Preferably, the applicants have completed a relevant technical training, but they will have to learn more anyway. So interest, curiosity and the will to learn are important criteria in the recruitment. This actually fits in seamlessly with the emphasis that schools place on learning ability.

The scarcity of technicians could also be an incentive to focus more on retraining. Hoekstra draws a comparison with the shortage of computer scientists in the eighties. Thousands of unemployed academics and HBO graduates were then retrained for entry-level positions in IT. A historian often turned out to be an excellent programmer. The panel agrees that there are opportunities there, but it is more difficult and on a smaller scale: “We simply don’t have thousands of unemployed academics at the moment.”

About the New Energy Forum 2022

The second edition of New Energy Forum took place on 23 June. New Energy Forum is the event for the (upcoming) energy and mobility professional, with this year’s theme ‘Breaking Barriers’. Visitors were challenged with and inspired by the latest developments in the energy transition and sustainable mobility innovations. The New Energy Forum is organized by Hive.Mobility, EnTranCe and New Energy Coalition.