Engineers in the European Union are free to work anywhere in the 27 member states, but recognition of their professional qualifications is often a stumbling block. That could soon change.
A new professional card—resembling a European driver’s license—documents educational and professional qualifications in accord with internationally recognized standards. It’s available now in Germany and the Netherlands, with several more countries slated to adopt it next year.
The new ”engineerING card” comes as demand rises for internationally mobile engineers in Europe. Countries like Germany and Sweden are reporting an acute shortage of engineers, particularly in high-tech sectors. At the same time, firms need engineers who can be flexibly deployed throughout Europe.
”I think a card based on international standards could be a really good way to help young engineers find work outside their home country,” said Martin Kast, a German telecom engineer with Ericsson who was transferred to Spain three years ago. ”In fact, it could be really handy right now for many of the unemployed young engineers in Spain who are looking for jobs abroad.”
The engineerING card is the brainchild of the European Federation of National Engineering Associations (FEANI), based in Brussels, which represents 3.5 million engineers and more than 500 000 engineering students across the region. The card has yet to be adopted by the European Parliament and the European Council. But it’s expected to be immediately useful, nonetheless.
”We aim to show that the engineerING card can function today internationally without a legal EU framework behind it,” said Lars Funk, head of the profession and society division at the Association of German Engineers (VDI). ”That said, we expect that EU officials with whom we have worked closely to meet all their requirements will honor our grassroots efforts and officially recognize the engineerING card.”
The initiative coincides with efforts by the European Commission to revise its Professional Qualifications Directive [PDF], with one of its aims being the launch of a portable professional card to streamline recognition procedures.
The biggest issue that engineering organizations have with the directive is its definition of a ”competent authority”—which, says FEANI secretary general Dirk Bochar, ”aren’t always competent. And those that are competent aren’t always the authorities. In Italy, for instance, all applications for professional qualifications must go through the Ministry of Justice. These people have neither the ability nor the capability of judging and evaluating whether an engineer coming from Belgium or Bulgaria is equivalent to one from Italy.”
Bochar argues that the professional card for engineers should ideally be the responsibility of national engineering organizations. ”Or, at the very least, the ministries or other authorities should delegate responsibility to us to issue the cards for engineers,” he said.
Under the FEANI scheme, engineerING cards are issued by a national register commission consisting of experts from relevant engineering organizations, university engineering professors, and officials from the responsible ministry. Each register commission operates its own database, which stores all professional documents in digital form. National databases are to be linked to a central server in Brussels.
The card provides information on academic education, professional experience, and continuing professional development based on international standards, such as the European Qualifications Framework and the European Accreditation of Engineering Programmes. All information appears in English along with the language of the country of issue. Valid for 10 years, the card is available on a voluntary basis to European engineers only.
The card will save European engineers both time and money—up to six months and several hundred euros—currently spent obtaining a series of documents that have to be certified and translated individually. In Germany, the engineerING card can be processed within a couple of weeks and costs €95 (about US $130) for those engineers belonging to an association such as VDI, and €120 otherwise.
Qualification barriers that have undermined the career aspirations of many engineers in Europe could soon disappear. ”For engineers and engineering companies,” Funk said, ”it’s a win-win deal.”
This article was updated on 26 January 2012.
About the Author
John Blau, who lives in Düsseldorf, Germany, has been contributing to IEEE Spectrum for 20 years. In September he reported on an alarming shortage of engineers in Germany.