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The future of Manufacturing in Europe 2015-2020: 4 SCENARIOS

Posted by Bert Maes on February 23, 2010

In 2003 the European Commission released a report on 4 scenarios on the Future of European Manufacturing in the next 2 decades.

First, I shortly describe the 4 scenarios and its implications for education.

Second, I reflect on the scenario I see Europe following today, 7 years after the release of the report.

SCENARIO 1: The European Union doesn’t get stronger, large multinationals shape international trade, consumers don’t care much about environmental impacts of production and consumption. Energy efficiency in production improves only because of strategies of company cost reduction. There are no incentives for radical changes.
>> In EDUCATION, due to the lack of government commitment, more and more private initiatives will pop up, focusing on excellence in education.

  • Reflection: The European Union is weak and will probably always be weak. The creation of the EU presidency post following the Lisbon Treaty was great. But Europe will never be unified as a transnational entity: too many cultural and historical differences, too many national minorities, all protecting their own interests. Guy Verhofstadt, president of the European Liberals ELDR recently wrote that the future of Europe doesn’t lie in the juxtaposition of national identities. “That would be a Europe that is incapable of solving problems,” Verhofstadt says,  “that would be a Europe that can’t play a significant role in the multi-polar world of the 21st century.
    >> This means that private initiatives in EDUCATION will be crucial to raise the quality and attractiveness of manufacturing education.

SCENARIO 2: Regional governments take over and determine policy priorities. Strict environmental regulations lead to a concentration of manufacturing activities in creative regional clusters that work with radical new manufacturing approaches and alternative energy systems for cleaner production. But there is little trans-regional coordination of policies.
>> In EDUCATION regional government bodies will work closely with industry and associations in training initiatives.

  • Reflection: Building regional innovative clusters is probably the right way forward. Economic growth and economic business is generated by autonomous regions, not by nations. In my view, the source of prosperity is always REGIONAL, e.g. Hong Kong/Shenzhen, Singapore/Johore/Batam, Taiwan/Fujian, South China, South India (Bangalore), Northern Mexico, North West coast of US (Silicon Valley), Eindhoven Netherlands for the ICT industry, North Rhine-Westphalia & Bavaria Germany for chips, Cambridge UK for Mechanical engineering, Northern Italy for Valves. [Related: the pledge from Mitch Free (CEO at for regional Special Economic Zones (SEZs) with reduced tax burdens, streamlined bureaucracy and administrative requirements]
    >> BUT the weakness of the whole system is EDUCATION, i.e. the supply of human resources. You can have the right ideas, work hard, take initiatives, bring together governments, professors, companies, students & financiers to make new companies happen, you can have lots of money, but without the right people with the right skills and with the right tools you will not make it. A strong economy is routed in a strong educational system.

SCENARIO 3: Global governance emerges, that promotes sustainability . The European Union defines and implements clear sustainability policies, with energy taxes, emission charges, strict regulations and financial incentives. Governments watch the designing and implementing of new technologies closely. Major technological breakthroughs result in more environmental production with renewable materials.
>> In EDUCATION governments retain the lead role, emphasizing interdisciplinary training, soft skills and problem solving capabilities. This scenario requires a highly qualified labor force with new skills to operate and manage sustainable production systems.

  • Reflection: The global governance is the ideal scenario for sustainability of our planet. But as said in Scenario 1: I doubt if Europe will ever speak with a unified voice. Moreover, the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December 2009 has shown us how difficult it is to unlock a global collective action.
  • >> On the other hand, TRAINING in interdisciplinary skills will become more important as the manufacturing industry will be completely reinvented by online communities, asking for highly customized products and smart, creative, innovative thinkers that will set up completely new client-centered business models to better meet the needs of increasingly demanding customers. [One of my posts that is linked with this: “The Small Batch Movement“]

SCENARIO 4: Europe establishes a strong industrial policy, but there is little willingness of China and India to include environmental and social concerns in their production. There are incentives for industry to invest in sustainable manufacturing solutions, but they run along existing application trajectories.
>> In EDUCATION there will be a EU-wide training certification system, coordinating public and private training schemes focusing in excellence in education.

  • Reflection: Europe that is focused on itself is PROBABLY WHAT IS HAPPENING NOW. East Asia is a huge competitive problem. So Europe will try to push innovation in high quality technologies that use new eco-friendly materials and product designs. That will create new export opportunities for companies. But – unfortunately – I don’t expect radical shifts in European manufacturing.
    >> Although in EDUCATION a EU-wide training certification system is a very interesting track to bring together all public and private education initiatives and could set the world-wide standard for manufacturing training.

Dear READER: >> Do you think of other scenarios? Or do you have different reflections?


11 Responses to “The future of Manufacturing in Europe 2015-2020: 4 SCENARIOS”

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

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  3. […] by regions, not by nations. In my view, the source of prosperity is always REGIONAL. (See my post: The future of manufacturing in Europe 2015-2020: 4 scenarios). So I deduct that the best education reforms come from local […]

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