René Raaijmakers
8 September

The influx of engineers and mechanics of all levels in the Brabant high-tech ecosystem must quadruple. ASML CEO Peter Wennink made that urgent request during the opening of the academic year at Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE).

It was a nicely orchestrated setup. Peter Wennink, top executive of ASML and chairman of TUE’s supervisory board, handily kicked the ball to TUE representatives during the opening of the academic year: “Four times more influx of talent.” TUE rector Frank Baaijens and university president Robert-Jan Smits immediately passed the ball on to the European and Dutch political representatives: “Cash on the barrel, please.”

Time and setting were well-chosen. TUE is the purveyor of highly educated people in the Brabant high-tech ecosystem. Four out of five Dutch-speaking engineering students go to work for a company in the Brainport region after graduating from the Eindhoven university. In his speech, TUE rector Baaijens admitted that the current output is far from sufficient to meet current and future demand.

Wennink’s audience included European Commissioner Thierry Breton and Economic Affairs minister Micky Adriaansens, and he was eager to capitalize on the current political wind: more researchers and engineers are needed to make our continent more technologically capable. “What do we need to do to become more relevant than we are today?” the ASML chief asked. “The chip industry and industry in general need a lot more talented engineers to do that. That’s the biggest problem we have.”

The shortage of tech brains has been perfectly clear for years. TUE, therefore, had the ambition to double the number of graduates. “It’s estimated that at least 70,000 vacancies must be filled across the board in the next ten years, with TUE being the chief supplier of engineering talent for the region,” Baaijens said.

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Robert-Jan Smits, chairman of TUE’s executive board, added that “we’re doing what we can, we’re already in talks to grow.” Smits said he’s willing to step up a gear and train more engineers. With minister Adriaansens at his side, he reiterated the economic importance of Brainport: “This region is on its way to becoming the number one economic engine of the Netherlands. Don’t look to the petrochemical industry in Rotterdam, big things are happening here.”

Smits asked the minister of Economic Affairs directly to make the necessary investments: “We’re a public university. Give us the right tools and we’ll get to work.”

BvOF Opening Academic Year TU Eindhoven 7
EU Commissioner Thierry Breton was a guest of honor at the opening of TUE’s academic year. Breton is seated here between Sylvia van Es, director of Philips Netherlands, and Minister Micky Adriaansens. To their right, ASML CEO Peter Wennink and to the far right, TUE president Robert-Jan Smits. Credit: Bart van Overbeeke

Vital

Wennink stressed that it’s not only necessary to increase the influx of engineers. “There’s a lot of mechanical installation work to be done and we need mechanics for that,” he said, referring to the energy transition. The ASML chief emphasized that both the Dutch and European governments need to increase their efforts. “That means increasing collaboration between knowledge institutes, industry and governments. And we need to start focusing on investment programs and on research, development and innovation. Basic research is also extremely important because we’re not just talking about the next decade. We’re talking about 2050, and for that, support is needed, because basic research is conducted almost exclusively in the university environment.”

Society is currently missing out on a lot of technical potential because women hardly ever choose technical professions. Wennink asked the politicians to pay more attention to this. “We need to go the extra mile to bring that up to a considerably higher level than it is now. We have to set up internationally renowned research and education programs. With that, Europe already has a good reputation with its Horizon programs,” said Wennink.

BvOF Opening Academic Year TU Eindhoven 15
“Private R&D investments in the Eindhoven region are at least twice as high as in any other region, but public investments lag far behind,” said TUE rector Frank Baaijens. Credit: Bart van Overbeeke

Rector Baaijens pointed out that the private R&D investments in the Eindhoven region are at least twice as high as in any other region in the Netherlands. “And this difference is growing because of the growth of Brainport,” he said, after which he touched on a sore point: “Unfortunately, public investments are lagging far behind, and in the long run, this could harm the growth of Brainport. After all, access to knowledge and talent is vital for any R&D-intensive industry.”

Main picture credit: Bart van Overbeeke