Stimulating the innovation skills of working engineers through innovation projects

An example of an answer to the growing need for lifelong learning, meaningful careers and enterprising engineers by the 5 Flemish universities.

Ruth Van Winckel
Ghent University

Kristel Dewulf
Ghent University

Céline Aerts
KU Leuven

LinkedIn profile

Jeroen Buijs
KU Leuven

Background and Objectives
“The challenges posed by demographic change and the regular need to update and develop skills in line with changing economic and social circumstances call for a lifelong approach to learning and for education and training systems which are more responsive to change and more open to the wider world.” These are the opening words of the first objective of ET2020, the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training. By 2020, at least 15% of adults should participate in learning. Both the Belgian and the Flemish government have started to develop an improved framework for lifelong learning, given that Belgium is lagging far behind. In 2016 only 7% of Belgian adults (25-64 years) participated in training.

Longer careers, tighter labour market conditions and a fast-changing professional context are contemporary situations that require a well-developed system of continuing education. It is of growing importance that people get the opportunity to update, broaden and deepen their knowledge during their career. This is particularly true for engineers, since they often work in a rapidly changing context and are themselves often the driving force of this change.

Universities have an important role to play in this challenge. In September 2016 a follow-up project for the Postgraduate Programme in Innovation & Entrepreneurship for Engineers was approved by VLAIO (Agency Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship). The programme is a cooperation between all Flemish universities and offers newly graduated engineers the possibility to gain experience in innovation and entrepreneurship on the basis of innovation projects. One of the additional goals of the project was to investigate how the existing programme could be adapted, so working engineers could combine this educational programme with professional activities. After all, the core business of the Postgraduate Programme, the innovation project, provides a great opportunity for lifelong learning: theoretical knowledge can immediately be applied to the participants own project. That way, the innovation projects bring university education and industry closer together.

Between September 2017 and December 2018, the universities examined the needs, wishes and limits of this new target group when it comes to education on the subject of innovation and entrepreneurship. With this overview of the target group of professionals in mind, a SWOT-analysis was made of the existing Postgraduate Programme in Innovation & Entrepreneurship for Engineers. Based on these results, the representatives from all universities formed a new programme that is adapted to working engineers with an interest in innovation and entrepreneurship, both in terms of practical feasibility and content: WingsPro.

More specifically, the programme targets working engineers with an innovative idea they want to validate but who are lacking certain skills and knowledge to do so. This can be a project in the company they work for or a project for their own start-up enterprise. Research shows that many new ideas that emerge in new companies arise from previous working experiences of the inventor. This can result in a spin-off, spin-out or independent business. The development and management of such companies requires new competencies and knowledge, which also creates a demand for training.

The goal of WingsPro is to stimulate the innovation skills of working engineers, so they can be employable on multiple levels, seize more opportunities and give their careers more impact.