Willem Koenen, engineer and chairman of Jong NLingenieurs, believes that engineers should show more guts when choosing projects. He also believes that more policy is needed from the government and that engineers should certainly take advantage of lifelong learning. Willem Koenen works at ABT (Engineers in construction technology), his enlightening view of his profession made us curious about his story.
Willem studied construction engineering in Arnhem, followed by a master's degree in Building Technology at TU Delft. After his master's degree, he worked for a year in Germany at a small engineering firm and eventually started a traineeship at the Oosterhoff Group, ABT's parent company. This has led to his current job as a building physicist at ABT. In addition, he can proudly call himself the owner of the Building Physics diploma from PAOTM and chairman of Jong NL engineers, with whom he wants to make an impact in the industry.
How do you see the role of engineers?
Engineers are currently also often risk managers. According to Willem, we are currently in a transition, in which engineers also have to make decisions that are not always fun for clients, but are better for people and the environment. Engineers must dare to show guts and dare to be sharper when choosing projects to which they want to contribute. It will sometimes be painful if this clashes with the business model of the engineering company. “Of course there are solutions, such as demountable buildings, but it remains a challenge to convince contractors of their added value,” says Willem.
Which societal challenge has the most impact?
Society faces challenges in all kinds of ways, such as climate, energy and the economy. According to Willem, the energy transition currently has the most impact, because the source is being changed to renewable, and that takes time, a lot of time. According to him, municipalities should take a leading role in this. “If you want to tackle the energy transition efficiently, the municipality should tackle this at a micro level. The biggest blow can be made by helping residents to insulate their home, for example by installing HR++ glass or insulating the cavity.” According to Willem, the social interest must be sufficient for the government to take its responsibility and approach the residents themselves. This requires vision and decisions to be made.
How do you see the technical innovations?
“There are two parallels going on, the craft, which we need to appreciate more. And knowledge will accelerate and become automated. The role of the engineer and consultant will therefore also change, whereby they must also take the client along in a customer journey. Include them in the design process and provide insight into the choices,” says Willem. According to him, lifelong learning can contribute to this by training engineers more broadly in other fields such as data-driven automation.
What is your vision on education?
He does see improvement in terms of education, for example, programs can go more in-depth on certain themes, so that students get the acceleration. “When students learn the underlying systems of a subject, they can also apply it to other materials. Think of it like a slingshot. By zooming in deeply on a piece of matter, you can more easily move ahead and also see cross-connections.” When the coherence in education becomes more apparent, in combination with teachers with solid didactic skills, then according to Willem we are a long way in the right direction.
The shortage of personnel is also noticeable in the engineering sector. Lifelong learning could reduce this shortfall. “Employers must also make choices in their long-term vision, and communicate this to their employees in good time. For example, certain courses may or may not be proposed in advance, which is in line with the vision. It could also be proposed in anticipation of the future. That is leadership, expressing the plans, and the staff can be better involved in that. ” said Willem. It is also important for employees to stay close to themselves, and to look at the areas in which they would like to develop themselves. They can take a leading role in this.
How do you apply lifelong learning?
Willem has just completed his Building Physics training at PAOTM, which he believes is a great opportunity to accelerate his career. He is also an active board member of Jong NL engineers, from where he has a good overview of the industry. And it takes him to fantastic places through various lecture tours. “I mainly immerse myself in the breadth within the branch
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