Engineers get worldly wise

October 5, 2001

Twenty-five multinational companies and eight technical universities from across Europe are working together to produce the next generation of European engineers.

They have founded Unitech, an exchange programme that aims to provide engineers with international exposure and managerial skills.

Fifty-four students are gathering in Barcelona to begin their year's training.

Students typically spend six months studying a mix of business and engineering courses at a technical university in another country. This is followed by a six-month work placement at a multinational company to develop their management skills.

They also attend a one-week seminar on aspects of management at the beginning and end of their year's training.

Pere Pons of the Technical University of Catalonia is about to complete his work placement with ST Microelectronica in Milan. This follows six months study at the Technical University of Milan.

He said: "You are really preparing yourself to work in a multinational environment. The fact that you know the mentality of people in a country helps you to understand how a multinational should adapt to a particular market."

Unitech was born out of collaboration between Liechtenstein company Hilti and Zurich's Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule. Hilti was finding it increasingly difficult to recruit engineers who also had the management skills it needed. Unitech is designed to plug this gap.

The initiative is funded by contributions from member companies. The network is negotiating with four more companies.

For Rudolf Moerkerken, director of TNT Logistics, participating in the Unitech initiative has two main advantages. "This is a unique opportunity to participate in the curricula of universities. We also get first-hand access to outstanding students we may wish to employ in the future," he said.

Applicants go through a careful selection process before joining the programme. They are assessed not only on their academic prowess, but also for language ability, willingness to work abroad and business skills.

Konrad Osterwalder, rector of ETH, believes that Unitech is a logical response to the convergence of higher education across Europe symbolised by the Bologna Declaration.

Mr Osterwalder said other companies could learn from its example of close cooperation between trainers and employers of engineers.

For engineering departments, it was a way of offering added value to their students at a time when demand for engineering places was falling in universities across Europe, he added.

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