POWER ELECTRONICS The European power electronics industry is struggling with a massive skills shortage
The European Union is facing a shortage of skilled workers across all industry sectors. Factors such as the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain problems, and an aging population are all adding to the crisis. We take a look at these issues and discuss how they are impacting the power electronics industry
In recent years there have been dramatic changes in the state of the European labor market. The impact of COVID-19, Brexit, ongoing supply chain issues and the conflict in Ukraine have further exacerbated an existing skills shortage. Companies in the power electronics sectors are now struggling to find and recruit skilled personnel. Despite the lack of skilled staff, continuing moves towards decarbonization and an increase in European semiconductor manufacturing ensure that the need for power electronics professionals is only set to increase throughout the next decade.
The Power Electronics Skills Shortage in Europe
The future of Europe depends on its ability to develop a “workforce with the right skills” as EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated in her State of the Union speech in September of 2022. President von der Leyen went on to say that “We have to attract the right skills to our continent, skills that help companies and strengthen Europe’s growth.”
Recent figures show that President von der Leyen is right to be concerned. European companies now talk about a “war for talent” as competition to attract skilled workers increases.
Throughout the continent, companies are facing a dramatic shortfall in the number of skilled workers. A survey conducted by SD Worx showed that 59 % of employers across the EU were experiencing a shortage of skilled workers. Belgium displayed the highest percentage with 65 % followed by the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Ireland. There is a better picture in Italy, Spain, Sweden, and Norway, with slightly less than a third of companies reporting recruitment issues. The French employers’ association CPME released a report stating that 94 % of companies were having difficulty in filling roles.
As European nations seek to lower their carbon emissions and move toward renewable energy sources, the demand for power electronics engineers is increasing. Currently, the electronics industry in Europe employs approximately 2.4 million workers. The electronics trade association IPC has projected demand will drastically increase and is now aiming to create 500,000 power electronics workplace training positions across the EU within the next five years.
As they transform their automotive, energy, and aerospace industries, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, France, and Austria are all experiencing a severe lack of skilled power electronics personnel. A recent IPC report showed that 57 % of European companies reported that finding and attracting skilled personnel in the power electronics fields was becoming increasingly difficult.
As Europe’s historical engineering and industrial powerhouse, Germany has been particularly impacted by a shortage of power electronics professionals. Ansgar Hinz, CEO of the Verband der Elektrotechnik Elektronik Informationstechnik (Association for Electrical, Electronic and Information Technologies (VDE)) has stated that Germany will need more than 100,000 electronics engineers than are currently being trained in the country in the next ten years. In 2020, the VDI-/IW-Ingenieurmonitor reported that there were 92,400 vacancies in Germany relating to the power electronics and IT sectors. In 2022, this figure hit an all-time high of 151,300.
In addition to the increased speed of Europe’s transition to alternative energy sources and intensifying focus on decarbonization, the global chip shortage is also contributing to the need for power electronics engineers.
The start of 2022 saw the announcement of the European Chips Act, which is aimed at increasing the rate of construction of semiconductor plants throughout the EU by 2030. The act adds 17 billion USD of investment to the 34.3 billion USD of planned public and private investment already allocated to developing new chip factories. This rise in investment has spurred Spain to allocate 12 billion USD in funding for semiconductor manufacturing while Italy has pledged 4.6 USD billion.
Global chip giant Intel has announced plans to invest 87 billion USD in semiconductor fabrication and research and development in the EU in the next decade. Intel is investing 18.6 billion USD into a semiconductor mega-site in Germany. The company is also spending 13 billion USD to expand its factory in Ireland and putting 4.9 billion USD toward a back-end manufacturing facility in Italy. Intel also intends to increase its lab in Poland by 50 % and create a research and development hub in France.
Factors Influencing the Shortage of Power Electronics Professionals in the EU
Several factors are influencing the current shortage of skilled labor in Europe. The first of which is the movement of skilled workers. The ability of power electronics professionals to move easily between EU countries has been severely hampered in recent years.
The implementation of Brexit drastically reduced immigration between the UK and the EU. While less talent has been arriving from the UK due to Brexit, intra-EU migration is also a factor driving the current power electronics skills shortage. From 2020 onwards, there has been severe disruption to the movement of skilled workers between EU countries due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war has also impacted the European labor market as thousands of Ukrainians returned to their homeland.
Demographics is another major factor that is driving the skills shortage in Europe. Populations are aging across the continent while birth rates are stagnating. As older skilled workers retire, there are fewer people of working age who have the necessary experience and education to replace them.
A report by McKinsey states that Europe’s working-age population will decrease by 4 % – 14 million people – by 2030. Germany is set to have the largest decrease with 8 % of its workforce retiring, followed by Italy at 7 %, and Poland at 9 %.
In terms of the power electronics industry, the lack of emerging new talent emerging is a major contributor to the skills shortage. This seems likely to continue to be the case for at least the next five to ten years. In Germany, for example, figures show that in the past five years enrolment in engineering and IT courses had decreased by 15 %. This has resulted in an annual shortage of 26,500 first-time graduates the country requires to meet the needs of its power electronics industry.
A 2022 study by Dr. Michael Schanz, director of the VDE Committee for Study, Work, and Society, suggests that the overall image of the power electronics industry is an issue for the younger generation. Data from the study pointed to potential students being considered with the lack of women in the industry, just 17 % of power electronics students are female. However, the study also showed that students of all genders are not pursuing careers in electrical engineering. This is due to the popularity of computer science degrees, which are perceived as offering more employment opportunities.
2023 and Beyond for the EU Power Electronics Industry
In the short term, the problems posed by the war in Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic, and Brexit will continue to impact the labor market in Europe throughout 2023.
However, many of the problems surrounding skills shortages in the power electronics sector could be solved by enhancing the mobility of workers by reducing visa restrictions and facilitating skills matching. Enhancing the recognition of qualifications gained in both EU and non-EU countries is also crucial to filling gaps in the power electronics labor market. Recent measures taken by EU governments in these regards may prove effective in improving the ease of migration within the EU and may help to attract skilled workers from non-EU countries.
The power electronics industry in the EU is projected to continue to expand at a rapid rate. Increased investment in semiconductor manufacturing, renewable energy sources, electric vehicles, and the enhanced rate of digitization and automation of the workforce will create a high demand for power electronics professionals for the foreseeable future.
More effort must be taken to attract a new generation of students to power electronics. Emphasizing the future-building and environmental aspects of the industry and increasing diversity, more people may be persuaded to pursue careers in power electronics. As Dr. Schanz himself stated: “It is clear that we'll need electrical engineers in the future, so we have to solve this problem.”
Time will tell if the EU can create and attract the talent it needs to overcome the current skills shortage and achieve its lofty ambitions within the power electronics sector.