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Germany alarmed at lack of engineers

Businesses and organizations are rolling out new efforts to make engineering cool again.

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When high school junior Daria Schirmer conducted scientific experiments with 8-year-olds as part of a school project this year – building a periscope or a compass with a magnet – she became not only an inventor of sorts but also part of the solution to what looms as one of Germany's greatest challenges: how to keep its sterling reputation as the world's leader in engineering.

For centuries, Germany led the world in technological prowess, from the motorcycle to the refrigerator. In the 19th century, inventors and entrepreneurs like Gottlieb Daimler, Carl Benz, and Carl Wilhelm Siemens developed products for brands still respected today. But over the past few years, young Germans have dramatically turned away from engineering – and now, the country needs 18,000 engineers – a third more than last year, according to the German Association of Engineers in Berlin. Alarmed that this gap could endanger Germany's engineering creativity, businesses are trying to stem the tide by launching a publicity campaign to make engineering sound like fun from kindergarten through university.

"The image of engineers has never been so bad," says Markus Roeser of Do Things, a coalition of 80 businesses, universities, and research institutes created five months ago to fill the engineering gap.

The group sponsors school projects, gives awards to youths making special scientific discoveries, awards scholarships, and helps engineering students find internships and young researchers commercialize their inventions.

Germany risks losing creative potential

"If we don't succeed in making young people enthusiastic about technical jobs again, we're running the risk of losing our place as the world's leading exporter," of manufactured goods and technologies, says Mr. Roeser.

"The lack of engineers is Germany's No. 1 hindrance to innovation," says Roeser. "At stake is to keep Germany's creative potential."

"Little Einstein Experiments," the pilot project that had pupils like Daria visit grade schools to do experiments every week, is the crux of this publicity campaign. Sponsored by the German state of Hessen's entrepreneurs association, it is meant to awaken scientific thirst early on.

"Children are naturally curious about learning. It's important to encourage their enthusiasm so that the fun doing experiments lasts," says Monika Zieleniewicz, Daria's physics teacher at the Albert Einstein High School in suburban Frankfurt who supervised the program. "That's how you help develop children's motivation for those fields."

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