​Learning on the fly: FISITA’s student travel programme

FISITA (Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Ingénieurs des Techniques de l’Automobile) was founded in Paris in 1948. Its mission is to enable automotive engineering societies to connect with each other, and to promote the goals of the automotive industry.

Just over a year ago, Chris Mason took over as CEO of FISITA. Over the past 20 years FISITA has established a number of initiatives to engage with younger engineers that reach out either directly or via its international network of member societies. Chris soon realised that for the organisation to remain relevant, it needed to expand its interaction with engineering students, and attempt to help bridge the growing skills gap within the industry.

Chris joined FISITA as CEO in 2014.
Chris joined FISITA as CEO in 2014.

“For me coming in as chief executive a year ago, one of my priorities was to look at actually, in 2015, how do we engage with those young people,” he tells The Student Engineer. “Are we engaging with them in a modern way, and if not, what more could we do?”

One of the existing programmes in place was the FISITA Travel Bursary, which provides funding for students take advantage of work placements in automotive companies around the world. In place for almost a decade, Chris says the programme has handed out nearly €250,000 in that time, and students in over 35 countries have taken part.

“We see it as a platform that we can now build from,” Chris explains, “because we think there are multiple opportunities to work with our members and stakeholders in the continued drive to attract young engineering talent to the automotive sector, as opposed to losing them to other areas.”

As well as being an umbrella organisation for different automotive engineering societies around the world, FISITA also counts many of the industry’s biggest manufacturers among its membership, including Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen. This provides a ready-made pipeline of companies that can offer work placement, and the opportunity for students to travel to the US, Europe and Asia to broaden their knowledge and gain international experience.

Many of the biggest names in the automotive industry participate in the programme.
Many of the biggest names in the automotive industry participate in the programme.

The application process is currently under review, but prospective students need to be members of their local FISITA society (the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the UK), be studying engineering, and undertaking industrial research placements. Applications are evaluated by a panel of judges who are members of the FISITA education committee, awarding funds on merit.

“The top five companies that we’ve sent people to are GM, Bosch, Daimler, Porsche and Volkswagen,” says Chris. “Europe is popular, in particular with members from further afield, such as Asia. But also increasingly, European members are keen to send their students to Asia and America for a different experience.”

Since Chris took over as CEO, FISITA he has increased funding for the programme by 50 per cent. There are two rounds of applications each year, taking place in spring and autumn, and Chris is keen to point out that with the changes in the car industry currently taking place, opportunities are not restricted to those with mechanical backgrounds.

The growth in electric cars such as the Tesla Roadster means that electrical engineers are increasingly in demand in the automotive industry.
The growth in electric cars such as the Tesla Roadster means that electrical engineers are increasingly in demand in the automotive industry.

“The automotive industry of the car fuelled by a combustion engine is being superseded by high-tech pieces of machinery on the road, so therefore there’s many opportunities for electrical engineers to join the automotive sector,” he explains.

“There’s still plenty of scope for mechanical engineers, so work out which one it is you want to do, take plenty of advice, and then really engage with the university network to make sure you’re embarking on the right course for you.”

For more information on FISITA’s Travel Bursary Programme and how to apply, visit http://www.fisita.com/education/bursary