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ACARE takes next generation of aerospace engineers under its wing

The Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe, 'ACARE', has held an important workshop on 'Education and Training of Engineers and Researchers in Aeronautics for Europe'.

Young people boarding an aeroplane © Peter Gutierrez
Getting young people on board
© Peter Gutierrez

Speaking at the  ACAREexternal link Workshop on 25 February 2010 in Brussels, ACARE Co-chairman Joachim Szodruch said, "The question of young people is a strategic question; without young people we have no strategy. But we need to do more than just talk about it. We need to take action."

András Siegler, Director of Transport at the European Commission’s Research Directorate-General, said, "We have a common interest in ensuring the best training of our future scientists and engineers. The world is changing. Science, research and business are becoming much more transnational." Meanwhile, Europe continues to lag behind the United States and Japan in terms of research investment, he added. "All of this means Europe has to continue to excel in terms of innovation and the ability to exploit research results. And this is why it is so important that we work to develop and maintain the enthusiasm and imagination of our young people."

In proper context

The ACARE youth workshop © Peter Gutierrez
The ACARE youth workshop
© Peter Gutierrez

"This meeting takes place against a backdrop of changing boundary conditions for the European aviation sector," explains EU Project Officer and workshop organiser Dietrich Knoerzer. "Education and training of aeronautical engineers and researchers has to be adapted to the requirements of today's aeronautics sector, including industrial and research communities, operators and public authorities."

Workshop participants reviewed the current state of affairs and identified needs for action with a view to providing new recommendations for the planned update of ACARE's seminal Strategic Research Agenda.

The event was introduced by Spiros Pantelakis, Chairman of ACARE's Human Resource Group. "Europe has the universities, the companies and the engineering departments," he affirmed. "But, is that enough?" Unfortunately, the answer is no, he said, stressing the need for synergies between these entities. "We need things like Europe-wide quality assurance; we need harmonisation so that we are all working in the same way, and, perhaps most importantly, we need to develop and put in place concrete procedures to make sure all of this really happens."

Providing an industrial perspective, Yves Favennec, Vice-President of Research and Technology at Eurocopter, said, "I'm afraid the glorious past of aeronautics and space is just that, the past. Gone are the days when intrepid adventurers and independent inventors could master a field and single-handedly change the world. The days of travelling to the moon, of developing the concord are also gone. We can no longer count on such events to captivate our younger generations."

Key assets for upcoming aerospace engineers, he said, include technical skills, but also patience, knowledge of multiple languages, flexibility and mobility, management skills and a sense of passion. And, he added, the industry has to work to redress the gender imbalance. "Ours is still an industry of challenges and excitement," he said, "for both men and women. We need to find ways to communicate this. We can still be an attractive field."

Norbert Arndt, Director of Engineering at Rolls-Royce Deutschland, added similar sentiments. "Today, science and mathematics are not the domains of just engineers. We hear universities telling us that their best and brightest students, people who once would have aimed for the stars, are now heading straight for the financial and banking sectors when they complete their studies. We need to work hard to keep young people interested in our field, to feel the passion that we felt."

Starting young

Various presenters suggested ways of stimulating the interest of school children at early stages, including science information days, visits to aerospace facilities and technology contests. Many such events are currently being organised at regional and national levels, but most agreed that more could be done at the European level.

Dietrich Knoerzer. © Peter Gutierrez
Dietrich Knoerzer.
© Peter Gutierrez

George Bingen of the European Commission's  Marie Curie programme explained what his service is doing to respond to Europe's needs for training, mobility and career development. Later, Franco Bernelli presented some of the achievements of  PEGASUSexternal link, the European Group of Aerospace Universities, while Bénédicte Escudier outlined the European Initiative for Advanced Training in Aerospace ( ECATAexternal link).

All of these initiatives, say ACARE workshop organisers, represent key actions that will move the ACARE agenda forward by providing a better-prepared crop of new engineers for the future.

Final word

The workshop ended with a major panel discussion on future needs and actions Szodruch, Favennec and Pantelakis were joined by a number of distinguished European aerospace personalities, including Liam Breslin, the Commission's Head of Aeronautics Research.

"We spend a lot of our time doing research," said Breslin. "We don't always spend much time focusing on our young people. But we are dependent on each other. Our work impacts on them and we depend on their good preparation and quality. What we can do to ensure that quality is what this day has been all about."

In his workshop summary, Knoerzer underlined the need for action: "ACARE's Human Resource Group should certainly undertake new initiatives for promoting the next generation of qualified and motivated engineers and researchers for aeronautics."