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Let’s Talk: Millennial STEM Talent

Let’s Talk: Millennial STEM Talent

Meet Sebastian, an Engineer in XL Catlin's Gaps Training Program

An interview with Sebastian Vinkenflügel, Loss-Prevention Associate, Gaps

Calling All Engineers!

Global infrastructure expansion, digitisation, and conversion to sustainable industry: We need more STEM talent (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) than ever before, and governments have been reporting for several years that the demand for STEM talent has outstripped the supply.

Property risk engineers are also in short supply. Today’s loss prevention experts need to be advanced engineers, able to operate in a complex, rapidly evolving, global economy.

In 2014, XL Catlin’s property risk engineering arm, Global Asset Protection Services (Gaps), recruited 12 gifted, young, engineering graduates for its 3-year, loss-prevention training program.

Meet Sebastian Vinkenflügel, one of our new trainees. He earned a Master of Science Degree in Energy Engineering from the University of Aachen in Germany in 2014, writing his master’s thesis on thermal engineering, at Tsinghua University in China. Before that, he earned a Bachelor Degree in Mechanical Engineering.

Sebastian, what did you and your university colleagues think about the global STEM talent shortage?

“We certainly talked about it, because it has been in the news for several years. Right now, I don’t see it as a problem for big companies in Western Europe or the US, because they can offer competitive compensation packages. Smaller companies, especially those in areas with fewer universities, could have a more difficult time hiring qualified engineers.

“I can say that all of my friends with master’s degrees in engineering and maths found a job within two months after graduation.”

Is that why you became an engineer? Because you thought it would be easy to get a job?

“I never thought about it that way. What I thought was that society depends on engineering for virtually everything: telecommunications, computers, infrastructure, cars, trains, airplanes, home appliances, even toys. Choose your field, an engineer is involved. The opportunities are infinite.

“Also, as long as I can remember, I have wanted to understand how things work, especially technical things, mechanical things. I was fortunate to grow up with engineers. My father is an engineer, so is his twin brother, and so is my other uncle. It helps when the adults in your life say, ‘Look, engineers did that!’”

You had just earned your master’s degree, and then you signed up for 3 more years of intensive training as a loss-prevention expert. What drew you to the Gaps trainee program?

“Well, I wanted to better understand how risk impacts the structures that interest me, like power plants and other energy sources. I also wanted to understand bottom-line costs, to understand how losses impact industry, the environment and progress, and how to prevent these losses from happening.

“There was a timely report in the German industry news on several corporate, loss-prevention training programs, and Gaps appeared to offer the most rigorous one by far—3 solid years of training.

“I also had 3 previous internships, before, during, and after my bachelor degree. So, I had a good basis for comparison at my first Gaps interview in Frankfurt. I met with two senior, loss-prevention consultants, both engineers. They didn’t just grill me. We had an open, unrushed dialogue. Right away, the cultural difference between Gaps and other organizations was obvious. I could see that I was going to get strong mentors who were inspired by their jobs, and excited about finding engaged apprentices. My first six months in the program have affirmed that.

“The Gaps service has over a 100 year history, and I am impressed on a daily basis by the amassed knowledge. Whatever is missing in various codes, like national fire codes, or other building codes, you will find it in the Gaps internal documents.

“I am confident I am getting the best risk-engineering education available, and lucky enough to be paid to keep learning.”

Would you call your job glamorous?

“Glamorous? Not really, unless you are into hard-hats! But I enjoy the nuts and bolts of this work, as I think all engineers do. I am in the process of witnessing real-life proofs of a lot of theoretical knowledge. I have watched a fire go from a spark to a 10-meter blaze in 1 minute, and I now get why, without sprinklers, a fire can ravage a building before the firefighters arrive.

“I also appreciate the endless variety. I learn something new about building structures and loss prevention every day in the field. Every building is different, and the risk calculation and loss-prevention strategy is unique for each building. The complexity and daily challenges inspire me.”

You will be travelling a lot. Is that part of the job you enjoy?

“Definitely—maybe that part of the job is a little bit glamorous. I knew that I would be asked to travel as a risk engineer, which was another big incentive to taking the job. I have already spent the first 6 months of the program in the US, which has been fantastic.

“I speak the standard foreign languages for a German: English and French, and I have travelled all over Europe. When the opportunity arose to write my master’s thesis in China, I was exposed to an Eastern culture for the first time. That was truly eye opening.

“It’s funny, before I left, I had all sorts of stereotypes and misconceptions in my head, like, how hard the language would be. Once you get past the first hurdle, Chinese is not as hard as you might think. It is a very structured, regulated language with few exceptions. It was a pleasure to develop my language skills while I was there.

“China was full of new sights, sounds, tastes and smells, all those vibrant cultural differences that make new places fascinating. But universal human truths make it possible to get to know people from very different cultures. People in China want what we all want: a family, a good home, and a good job. The people I met in China were curious, open-minded, and hard-working, and I developed great respect for them. I hope I will have the opportunity to work there again.

“I believe that in our global economy, it is imperative to understand other cultures, to be able to work effectively and live peaceably with them.”

What will your specialty be in the future? Will you stick to energy?

“I am interested in energy, and excited about the conversion to clean energy. It will take a few more decades to become the standard, because the investment required is still in the trillions. We are still experimenting with renewables, too, which means we don’t understand all of the risks we might face.

“In the next 2.5 years, I certainly look forward to surveying power plants, especially in Germany, where the energy transition is moving pretty quickly. It will be interesting to get a hands-on look at how patching on renewable energy sources to the existing power grid actually changes the risk.

“Will I specialise in energy or power plants? It is too early to say. Even specialisation today requires a lot of cross-disciplinary work, because structures themselves are more complex, including a whole dimension of electronic technology. New experiences spark new ideas, and I will keep my eyes open for every opportunity to contribute to progress.”

Want to know more? You can reach Sebastian on: sebastian.vinkenfluegel@xlcatlin.com

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