Interview Beatrice Boots - European countries join forces: Working together to combat skills shortages in STEM professions

Interview Beatrice Boots - European countries join forces: Working together to combat skills shortages in STEM professions

Source / author: 
Niederlande Nachrichten
Publication date: 
21 February 2024
Publication type: 

Director of the EU STEM Coalition, Beatrice Boots, was recently interviewed by the German magazine ‘’Niederlande Nachrichten’’. Find below the English translation of the interesting article.


The shortage of skilled labour in STEM professions is not just a problem in Germany. Managing Director Beatrice Boots from the Dutch 'Platform Talent voor Technologie' (PTvT, Dutch National Platform Science & Technology) is joining forces with numerous European initiatives in order to learn and benefit from the experiences of others. "German support for vocational training is urgently needed." The shortage of skilled labour in STEM professions is becoming an increasingly pressing problem for Germany. Think, for example, of professions in the energy transition, digital innovation or healthcare technology. STEM graduates are urgently needed in sectors where there are major social problems. This is already clearly noticeable in Germany. Technical professions such as the metal and electrical industry and the STEM sector are particularly hard hit, writes the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection. When the ministry asked entrepreneurs in 2010 whether they had difficulties filling vacancies, 16% said yes. In 2018, the figure was already 50%.

This situation threatens to worsen when you consider that the number of people aged between 20 and 65 in employment is set to fall by 3.9 million by 2030. By 2060, the number of people in employment will fall by a further 10.2 million if no measures are taken.


Shortage of skilled labour in STEM professions: More than 20 years of experience in supporting vocational training

However, the shortage of skilled labour in STEM professions is not a typically German problem, says Director Beatrice Boots from the Dutch National Platform for Science & Technology (PTvT). "This is happening in the Netherlands just as it is in other European countries. In the Netherlands, we were founded as a platform 20 years ago by the Ministries of Education, Economic Affairs and Social Affairs to tackle this challenge."

At the time, Boots went to work as a researcher for the PTvT to find out where the root of the problem lay. "We realised that there was often a mismatch between business and education. There was no good dialogue between schools and businesses about what skilled workers are needed for the jobs of the future. Companies complain that there are not enough technically trained people, and the education system often accuses companies of not getting involved enough."


Shortage of skilled labour in STEM professions

A better match between education and business needs requires a stronger commitment from both sides. "The government can support this dialogue. In this way, we can make education smarter and better, because ultimately we have to do this together. With the results of this dialogue, you then have to get to work. And that pays off. Companies that invest in education get staff more quickly and easily.


Dialogue on skills shortages in STEM professions needed at regional, national and international level

This dialogue should not only be conducted at a national level, but also at a regional level. "The challenges can vary greatly from one region to another. Let's say there is a strong chemical industry in one region, then the training has to match this. That may sound very logical, but in practice there is often no coordination."

This cooperation between education, industry and government, also known as the Triple Helix in the Netherlands, is laid down in a technology pact between the partners. "This ensures that the regional focus returns and a long-term vision is guaranteed," says Boots. "In order to have enough qualified labour in the region, you have to make several adjustments."

This starts with getting pupils interested in STEM training. "Then you have to make sure at school that the students don't drop out and that they then find the right job. After that, you have to make sure that young professionals are kept in the industry. The line of continuous learning has to be right."


International attention for Dutch approach

"The lessons PTvT has learnt in the fight against the skills shortage in STEM professions are attracting international attention," says Boots. "The skills shortage has decreased significantly in the first few years, so our approach is working," she says. However, when the government had to make cuts due to the financial crisis, this was immediately noticeable. "Since 2015, we have been able to catch up again and this is also reflected in the figures. Because we have documented our approach well, we often receive visits from foreign delegations."

International attention also came from the then President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso. "At his request, there was more dialogue between various European initiatives, which led to the EU STEM Coalition."


Shortage of skilled labour in STEM professions

The EU STEM Coalition is now reflected in new European measures such as the Digital Services Act and the Chips Act. Another promising initiative is the Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs), which act as skills ecosystems at regional level across Europe. Here, 400 million euros have been made available for the establishment of 100 CoVEs. "Think of the skills needed for the big transitions, like now in the hydrogen sector."


European cooperation needed to combat the skills shortage in STEM professions

However, the skills shortage in STEM professions is far from over, says the PTvT Director. "We have always seen that higher education and universities in particular receive a lot of state funding. Vocational education is lagging behind here. That's why we need to make our voices heard in Europe so that STEM education also receives appropriate funding. We can achieve more with a larger network."


Shortage of skilled labour in STEM professions

Education remains a matter for the countries themselves, but the European exchange of good examples brings a lot. "The Dutch technology pact, for example, is now being copied in many countries." Conversely, the Netherlands is also learning from other European initiatives. "We discovered how popular the First Lego League is in North Rhine-Westphalia. That encouraged us to organise this international robotics programme for pupils aged 9 to 15 in the Netherlands too."


European parliamentary elections

Boots wants to use the European Parliament elections to put the topic of STEM on the European agenda in the long term. "We agree across Europe that we need to invest in the skilled trades. Especially now, when we need many skills for important transitions such as digitalisation and sustainability. That's why we want to ensure that more financial resources are made available."


Shortage of skilled labour in STEM professions

The Director is also thinking about the use of EU funds such as Erasmus+ programmes. "Here, a stronger focus can be placed on topics such as STEM/STEM for areas with major upheavals and social issues and more attention can be paid to vocational education and training, especially at secondary level."

Boots is therefore not in favour of new projects, but of strengthening existing structures. "They deserve more support. We can expand what works well." This is reflected, among other things, in the European STEM memorandum, which will be presented to Flemish Prime Minister Jan Jambon at the end of February 2024. The handover will take place on 29 February at the State Representation of North Rhine-Westphalia in Brussels.

This will be followed by EuroSkills Herning 2025 in Denmark, an event at which hundreds of young people from 32 countries will compete against each other to become masters in their trades. There will also be discussions behind the scenes about improving vocational training. "It would be nice if we could say in some time: The Copenhagen Accord 2025 has made a difference to vocational education and training," she says.


Joining the EU STEM Coalition

From Germany, Global Talent Mentoring, matrix gGmbH, MINTvernetzt, Nationales MINT Forum e. V., Science on Stage Europe and ZDI Nordrhein-Westfalen are already participating in the EU STEM Coalition.

The secretariat of the EU STEM Coalition is currently run by the Dutch National STEM Platform (PTvT) with offices in The Hague and Utrecht (Netherlands). If you have any questions about the EU STEM Coalition or its partners, please contact