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Development programme to resolve shortage of System Engineers

Theme: Laying the foundation for Dutch approach of Systems Engineering



Systems engineering is one of the strengths of the Dutch high-tech equipment industry and a crucial competence for the Netherlands to remain a leader in this industry. However, a shortage of systems engineers, due to the fragmented and different approaches and the limited amount of training in this field offered by higher education and training institutes, threatens this position.

Therefore, the NXTGEN HIGHTECH investment programme has defined systems engineering as a key technology and initiated a seven-year project to set up a Comprehensive Systems Engineering Education programme. The goal is ambitious: by 2030, the 'Dutch Approach of Systems Engineering' will be fully embedded in Dutch education.

Definition of Systems Engineering

According to the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), systems engineering is an interdisciplinary approach and means to enable the realization of successful systems. The methodology considers both the business and the technical needs of all customers and is aimed at providing a quality product that meets the users' needs. A systems engineer has the mindset of a systems thinker who draws on multidisciplinary knowledge and experience. Besides broad experience, social leadership skills are key in running complex system development projects. Sound basic technical knowledge distinguishes the systems engineer from a proper business or project manager, making them essential in ensuring the success of intricate projects.

The Dutch high-tech equipment industry – OEMs such as Philips, ASML, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Canon Production Printing (former Océ), and their system suppliers – are experiencing an increasing shortage of high-quality, welltrained personnel in general, but especially of well-qualified systems engineers. This inhibits the possibilities for the Netherlands to maximally exploit its systems engineering (SE) capabilities and continue to lead the way in the development of next-generation, even more complex, high-tech systems and machines in the various application areas. Eventually, the high-tech equipment industry is in danger of losing its innovative power and its strong global competitive position.


The shortage has arisen because the Netherlands lacks a goal-oriented and structured development of systems engineers, while there is an increasing need for qualified systems engineers.

Failing education

The development of a good systems engineer requires years of experience, further education, training and personal growth, so that he/she oversees the whole of a system in its context and sufficiently understands the system components, the application area and the relevant technologies. However, education is falling short:

  • Knowledge and experience in the field of SE education, research and development is fragmented in the Netherlands. The standardisation in approaches is limited and systems engineers are predominantly domain-specific and sometimes even company-specific.

  • A central vision on SE for the high-tech equipment industry is lacking.

  • Development initiatives are also fragmented as a result. There is no vision and realisation of a continuous development line.

Increasing complexity

Complexity is increasing, due to ever more complex technology, advance in materials science, and the rise of additional requirements for recycling and the reduction of energy consumption and emissions/waste streams. This means there is an increasing need for systems engineers who can oversee this all-encompassing complexity, as well as for new SE methodologies that use model-based SE and artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse and manipulate large amounts of data in order to help systems engineers and designers take the right decisions.

NXTGEN HIGHTECH investment programme

NXTGEN HIGHTECH is the Dutch investment program for the development of the new generation of high-tech equipment for future generations. It was launched in 2021 by the top sector High-Tech Systems & Materials within the framework of the government's mission-driven innovation policy focused on key technologies and developing innovations for societal challenges such as energy, climate, security, food, and healthcare. The program encompasses six core domains: agri-food, energy, biomedical production technology, composites, laser satellite communication, and semiconductors. The total budget amounts to one billion euros, with a contribution of 450 million euros from the National Growth Fund.

Systems engineering (SE) plays a pivotal role across all domains of the NXTGEN HIGHTECH program. In domains like semiconductors, laser satellite communication (aerospace), and composites (aviation), SE is already a common practice, with the program aiming for further standardization and modernization. In domains such as energy, the biomedical industry, agri-food, and composites (shipping), the broader application of systems engineering is the program's objective.

To support this comprehensive initiative to further develop, strengthen, and facilitate SE for the Dutch high-tech industry, the Comprehensive Systems Engineering Education project was integrated into NXTGEN HIGHTECH. This project was initiated by the applied research institute TNO - ESI (Embedded Systems Innovations), the High Tech Systems Center of Eindhoven University of Technology, and Holland Innovative (specializing in project management, product development, reliability engineering, and data analytics).'Brainport Development is leading the project.

Project summary

NXTGEN HIGHTECH has initiated the Comprehensive Systems Engineering Education project to resolve this shortage and – simultaneously – firmly establish the ‘Dutch Approach of Systems Engineering’ (DASE) as a universal joint approach of knowledge institutions and the high-tech equipment industry that appeals to the international imagination.

DASE characteristics include:

  • entrepreneurial spirit (no hierarchy);
  • consensus-driven collaboration (‘polder’ mentality);
  • willingness to accept chaos (versus striving for rigorous perfection);
  • ‘failure-based’ learning (open, feedback-based communication)

The intended creation of a continuous development line for SE will involve:

  • An unambiguous description of an SE framework as practiced in the Netherlands, and the corresponding competences.
  • A concept for the national continuous development line, including an overview of existing courses and courses still to be developed.
  • A pilot for testing SE curriculum modules for academic, higher vocational and secondary vocational education.
  • Commitment from academic and higher vocational education institutions to jointly develop and roll out Bachelor, Master and post-Master programmes for SE, made explicit by at least two knowledge institutes, which have prepared the implementation for this purpose.
  • Knowledge dissemination leading to commitment from public and private parties to develop and roll out professional education programmes for SE, tailored to the needs of the market.

In addition, a central (virtual) SE knowledge hub for the Dutch Approach of Systems Engineering will be realised where knowledge and experience in the field of SE education, research and development are brought together and secured.


The intended result of all efforts is that the supply of SE talent will increase, the intake of students in related courses will be stimulated and the quality of SE staff will improve. In the end, this will increase the relevance of SE for developing technological solutions to societal challenges. SE in combination with systems thinking can help to produce more optimal solution strategies and go through the development processes more efficiently and effectively. In addition, SE helps to efficiently organize production of the newly developed products and systems, optimizing cost price as well as lifecycle management and sustainability