Education – the importance of professional qualifications

Today, training and professional qualifications are vital in the heating and plumbing engineering industry but that's nothing new. Norbert Rapp, part of the heating and plumbing engineering industry for decades, discusses the importance of qualifications in his native Germany and elsewhere.

He started out in 1961 as an apprentice technical draftsman for the heating and plumbing department at a local company. “As is the case today, the training was divided into three parts – the first year was technical training, the second year was a training internship and the final year focussed on planning and calculation,” explains Norbert. “On completion of this course people did not usually work as draftsmen, instead choosing to be planners. As a result, the professional title of Technical System Planner was introduced and the training period was extended to three and a half years.”

After two years of professional activity, Norbert attended the Federal Technical School in Karlsruhe. After passing the state examination, he was awarded the professional title State-Certified Heating Technician. According to the German authorities, the intensity and level of training of a State-Certified Technician can be compared to the British Higher National Diploma (HND).

In 1970 Norbert took on the position of production engineer in a company specialising in technical building design. He was able to do this as there was no engineering law in Germany at that time. However, he continued his education by attending professional seminars and courses.

“Unfortunately, in 1972 I missed the deadline for notification to the regional council in order to be able to continue with the professional title of engineer,” explains Norbert. “However, I later found out about British engineering education through a publication by the Association of German Engineers, of which I have been a member since 1978.

Norbert (R) received the bronze medal in 1993 from the Chamber of Industry and Commerce

“In the early 1980s, I applied for membership with what was then The Institute of Plumbing (IOP) as a Fellow. It was a long road to recognition, but I successfully completed the required interview at the IOP, and in 1987 I was certified by the Engineering Council as a TEng registered engineer.”

After eight years as a production engineer, Norbert moved to a large company that manufactured pumps and swimming pool technology, where he worked as a sales engineer for two years. Following this position he became an engineer for building services.

“During this professional activity, I qualified further for a BSc (Eng), which is accepted by the German Register of Engineers,“ explains Norbert. “I also completed a distance learning course at the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin, which led to the professional title of Safety Engineer.

From 1972 until the end of his service in 2007, Norbert was appointed head of training for the profession of technical draftsman. However, recognition in Germany was very difficult at the time.

“Only after I was recognised as EUR ING (Europäischer Ingenieur/ European Engineer) by FEANI (Fédération Européenne d’Associations Nationales d’Ingénieurs/European Federation of National Engineering Associations) and the British engineering education fell under the university diploma directive 89/48/EWG, was recognition possible in Germany in 1992,” explains Norbert.

Norbert remains an examiner at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. FEANI, represented by the German Technical and Scientific Association, also appointed him as an expert at the National Monitoring Committee. In 2013 he qualified for a Master of Engineering and was appointed Extraordinary Professor the same year.

German training

Germany has technical schools (Master Schools) for manual trades to produce master craftsmen. The entry requirement is a completed apprenticeship in a trade. State-Certified Technicians will continue to be trained, but they can’t use the job title engineer.

“For the academic field there are engineering schools (universities, colleges and also dual universities),” explains Norbert. “A high school diploma is required as an entry requirement and graduates receive bachelor’s or master’s degrees.”

In order to be entered into the German craftsman register, the person needs to have passed the master craftsman exam. There is also a register for state-certified technicians.

“The same applies to German engineers and bachelor degrees as well as master degrees,” explains Norbert. “However, with these degrees it is checked whether the course content is equivalent to a master’s degree. In addition, there is also the old journeyman regulation. This means that if the person only has a journeyman’s certificate (the journeyman’s certificate confirms that the final examination has been passed and now Anlagenmechaniker), they must have worked as a journeyman for six years, four in a managerial position. However, this does not apply to all professions.

“In the Federal Republic of Germany, each federal state has its own engineering law. These 16 state engineer laws, which have the same content and are almost identical, regulate who may use the German job title engineer alone or in a word combination.”

Word combinations can be, for example, heating engineer, industrial engineer, engineering office etc. People who have completed a German university education can easily use these designations. However, as a state-certified technician at two technical schools in Germany, individuals can obtain the professional title of engineer after two years of professional practice through a two-semester further training course.

People who have completed engineering training abroad are checked by the competent authority (Regierungspräsidium, or Landesingenieurkammer) to determine whether their training is equivalent to the German training. If it is, then individuals are granted the appropriate approval.

“In Germany, only the use of the job title is regulated, but not the activity,” points out Norbert. “In the case of technical bachelor’s degrees, it is usually noted on the certificate that the graduate is entitled to use the professional title Engineer according to IngG (state engineer laws).

Germany has technical schools for manual trades

Now that Great Britain and Northern Ireland have left the EU, recognition according to the EU professional recognition directive no longer applies. Professional qualifications that have already been recognised, however, will remain valid post Brexit.

“Due to the 16 federal states in Germany, it is quite possible for British professional qualifications to be recognised,” says Norbert. “Of course, simplified recognition of regulations of both professional organisations can be proposed.”

As a Fellow of the CIPHE, Norbert recognises the important role that the institute has in the UK’s plumbing and heating engineering industry:

“In my opinion, the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE) is an important institution in Great Britain. This professional association, together with the Engineering Council, have high professional reputations in the EU. By acknowledging the title of TEng, which was later changed to IEng, I was recognised as an engineer in Germany, Luxembourg, Austria and technical industrial engineer in Spain.”

Low carbon future

Germany has set a significant goal to move away from using fossil fuels such as oil and gas, but industry and homes still need vast quantities of both. Before the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine, just over half of the gas consumed in Germany was imported from Russia. Since then Germany has sourced natural gas from Norway and the Netherlands and expanded its infrastructure for importing liquified natural gas from the US and Qatar.

“The price of gas and oil has more than doubled,” says Norbert. “It’s the same with oil heaters. A litre of heating oil currently costs around €1.45, which is double what it was in 2021. However, conversion to a heat pump of any kind is not affordable for many owners. The population has to be prepared for a hard winter.”

Germany has made strides to reduce the country’s carbon emissions. For example, low temperature boilers may only be replaced with condensing boilers that offer efficiencies of up to 105%.

“The dual vocational training in Germany is exemplary, so it can be assumed that a fully trained system engineer is familiar with the new low carbon technologies,” says Norbert. “However, there is still a lack of skilled workers. Some of the fully trained plant mechanics will not remain in the profession, as they will possibly strive for a higher degree (technician or engineer). However, these skilled workers are also lacking as the trade is losing these valuable practitioners. Perhaps these practitioners should be given greater professional standing.”

A German gas processing plant on the Baltic

The EUR ING

The EUR ING title delivered by FEANI is designed as a guarantee of competence for professional engineers, in order:

  • to facilitate the movement of practicing engineers within and outside the geographical area represented by FEANI’s member countries and to establish a framework of mutual recognition of qualifications in order to enable engineers who wish to practice outside their own country to carry with them a guarantee of competence;
  • to provide information about the various formation systems of individual engineers for the benefit of prospective employers;
  • to encourage the continuous improvement of the quality of engineers by setting, monitoring and reviewing standards.

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