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Company News, 2006-05-20, 12:01 PM

Technology center Germany in search of a new identity

When it comes to innovation, Germany has been losing ground for years. A study by the Association of German Engineers VDI has revealed an industry shortfall of some 15,000 engineers. The number of students enrolling on key engineering courses in the winter semester 2005/2006 fell by a further 8.3%. In addition, the PISA studies highlighted serious knowledge deficits among German school pupils.

It would appear that the land of machine builders, car makers, engineers and mechanics is losing its fascination for technology. Are German children no longer interested in building complex model airplanes? Have small boys stopped losing sleep over their attempts to create perpetual motion? What do today's youngsters come up with when asked about famous German inventions?

For Germany as the world's biggest exporting nation, technology's fading gloss poses an existential problem. In the run-up to the Ideas Park 2006, which is taking place at the Expo site in Hanover from May 20 to 28, ThyssenKrupp joined forces with Bremen-based consultants nextpractice to get to the bottom of the matter. Intensive interviews were conducted with 100 people on the subject of technology employing a special psychological method which allows even unconscious attitudes and emotions to be uncovered. The findings reveal a profound change in the way technology is perceived. Although Germany continues to be seen as a center of forward-looking high technology, the enthusiasm is lacking. The fact that technical developments can make work easier and enhance efficiency and quality of life is no longer regarded as anything special. Producing quality worth paying for is seen as a duty, nothing more.

Whereas "made in Germany" continues to carry weight abroad, the German interviewees were considerably less satisfied with their country. They have higher expectations of Germany as a technology center. The areas where they feel improvements are most needed are enthusiasm for innovation and responsibility for sustainable development. For the German interviewees, fascination for technology is linked with an understanding that goes far beyond purely practical aspects, a successful combination of ecology and the joy of living, of creative freedom and social justice. The bar is high when it comes to getting people in Germany enthusiastic about technology. Use of technology in the medical area unanimously receives the most positive ratings, and the Transrapid maglev train actually generates something akin to national pride.

The interviews showed the image of engineers to be a sensitive gauge of changing self-image. The greater the importance attached by interviewees to innovation and sustainability, the more critical their view of the engineering profession. Engineers are seen as hands-on implementers with too little regard for ecological and social aspects. Accordingly, the innovative abilities of engineers are not regarded as setting new trends. Given these image problems, it is perhaps no surprise that Germany now has a shortage of engineers.

But far more alarming than the fading attractiveness of the engineering professions are the study's results on the role of schools for Germany as a technology center. In terms of teaching technical subjects and promoting interest in technology, schools received very bad grades from all interviewees. Those interviewees under 25 actually felt that schools had an anti-technology stance. Though the situation is regarded as much more positive at universities, these findings provide serious food for thought. The value systems on which people's actions are based are largely shaped by the age of 18. In a country whose central resource is its people, a failure to identify with the pillars of their own performance has fateful consequences.

Prof. Dr. Peter Kruse, who led the study, concludes: "The subject of technology reflects the situation in Germany. Competency is only of secondary importance when it comes to innovativeness. More important is the question of understanding. Trying out something new always involves risks. Without knowing why change is needed, the tendency is to stick with what we know. Germany has every chance of regaining leading positions as a center of technology. Teachers haven't become worse and pupils haven't become dumber. What we're lacking is not competency, it's a viable common identity for which people feel it is worth trying out something unusual. In what direction do we want Germany to develop?"

Dr. Ekkehard D. Schulz, initiator of the Ideas Park and the study: "We want to get young people enthusiastic about technology. But appeals and arguments alone are simply not enough. First of all we have to make people see that innovation can be fun - that's something we'll be doing at our "Ideas Park" technology experience opening today. But we also need to address the values involved. For young people in Germany, the fact that something is technically doable is no longer enough to give it meaning. They want to know whether technology can make a sustainable and responsible contribution to our future - and that's an issue we will be discussing with young people."

During the Ideas Park, ThyssenKrupp and nextpractice will be inviting up to 1,500 youngsters to debate the future of Germany's technology, its education system and society. Under the heading "Ideas Workshop: Young People for Germany's Future", up to 90 visitors will be able to take part in each of 18 workshops, which will be equipped with an electronic moderation network. Anyone interested is advised to book early at to secure their place.

The Ideas Park 2006
From May 20 to 28, the Ideas Park 2006 will be opening its doors at the Expo site in Hanover. Organized by ThyssenKrupp in conjunction with more than 50 partners, the show will run for nine days and will present tomorrow's technology today on a 30,000 m² site. The Ideas Park is a unique technology experience. It will take visitors on an informative and emotive journey into the future. The activities and exhibits will center on the areas of "Mobility", "Life and environment", "Creativity" and "Education". The program of events for each day and the full week along with all the latest information on the Ideas Park 2006 in Hanover is available on the internet at Admission to the Ideas Park 2006 is free.

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