Training efforts and the job market – are they in sync?
During the last few decades nanotechnology has evolved with ever increasing speed. Besides of all the novel products which hit the market, this development has also resulted in a significant job market for nanotechnology experts. Now, here is a stupid question: What is a nanotechnology expert? One way to address this is to claim that everybody who has studied something with “nano” in the title is qualified. According to the most recent comprehensive survey (Costas Kiparissidis, Nanoeducation Report, Nanofutures January 2011, www.nanofutures.eu), there are 138 programs available in Europe that lead to a formal degree title using the term “nano”, mostly on the level of master or PhD program. However, the different programs rely mostly on the existing expertise of the respective institution. A medical university will consider nanomedicine to be especially important, while a technical one may be more focusing on the materials. The wide range involving nanomaterials leads thus to a diverse spectrum of education offers, where it may not always be simple to find the best fit to the expectations of a student. In addition, it is not clear how well the education offers are matching the requirements of the job market. Obviously a job market for nanoexperts is developing, but what are the skill needs of the employers? In the worst possible situation, students may spend a lot of time and effort in studying but cannot find appropriate jobs later on, while industrial employers, but also others (regulatory agencies, media, politics etc.) are unable to recruit the specialists they urgently need.
For the students it is not clear whether studying nanotechnology (or other nano-disciplines) confers a special advantage. It is a modern field with good job perspectives, but would they be off better or worse if they study some traditional subject, like physics, materials sciences, or biotechnology? Matching education offers with job market needs is thus an effort that should be for the benefit of everybody, including students.
NanoEIS is a Supporting Action within FP7 that is coordinated by Albert Duschl from PLUS. The project started in November 2012 and will last 3 years. There are eight partners: Three universities, an academy of science, two large industry associations, a company assessing social employer needs and an organization active in bringing nanotechnology into high school classrooms, since the decision for a specific subject is of course made before entering university.
NanoEIS will assess job market needs and university offers, will carry out in-depth studies at selected locations, and will issue a series of recommendations how to best harmonize education offers with students expectation and job market demands. The consortium will also establish a model curriculum, which will be put online and is intended to aid educators in self-assessment. Educators may conclude that some modules considered important are already well covered in their own program, that they are not covered but also not needed based on the specific profile of the program, or that interesting aspects may indeed not be full covered. The model curriculum is thus a “checklist” for free use. It’s most interesting contribution would be to stimulate improvements in existing or planned curricula, which could be made by adding to the present study programs or by getting input from third parties, e.g. by internet based courses or by making use of education offers like summer schools or focused courses on specific subjets. In this way it should be feasible to improve the match between what education in the nano-field has to offer, and what special skills are in demand later on in the job. Updated information about this ongoing project is available at www.nanoeis.eu.