When Ashna Mudaffer decided to write her master’s thesis on the topic of circular economy in 2019, she was literally breaking new ground.

She attended a single seminar on circular economy at the Johannes Kepler University in the management course with a focus on sustainability and immediately noticed: "That's my topic," she says.

At the time, her university in Linz in Austria did not have its own course on the topic of circular economy, only a research institute founded in 2015.

There she finds a supervisor and shortly thereafter even a practical example for her master's thesis.

She is doing an internship at the injection molding machine manufacturer Engel in the Upper Austrian town of Schwertberg.

In the globally active company, she analyzes the business processes and develops strategies for how the company could become "circular".

Among other things, she suggests that Engel take back defective and worn machines in the future and refurbish them.

It is the core idea of ​​the circular economy: the manufacturer of a product should no longer only be responsible until it is sold, but also ensure that valuable resources are preserved in the economic cycle.

True circular economy is much more than recycling.

Proponents envision closed, regional value chains in which products do not end up in the trash, from which the few recyclable materials are then fished.

But in which many new jobs are created because technology has to be maintained, repaired and refurbished.

The European Union has also recognized this potential and is putting pressure on it.

Since 2015 there have been a number of new laws as part of the "Circular Economy Package".

Companies need appropriately trained employees who accompany the transformation process commercially and technically.

“The circular economy is currently experiencing an absolute hype,” confirms economist Erik Hansen.

"And skilled workers for this area are scarce."

The demand is great

Hansen is the founder and director of the Institute for Integrated Quality Design in Linz, where Ashna Mudaffer wrote her master's thesis.

Only after she had her degree in the bag did Hansen, together with others, found the Master's degree in "Sustainable Business & Circular Economy" at the LIMAK Austrian Business School in Linz.

"More and more universities are offering their own programs or setting up research institutes that combine technical aspects of the circular economy with entrepreneurial ones," says Hansen.

Some universities have so far only offered individual modules or lectures on the subject.

However, there are also more and more specialized bachelor's and master's degree programs in the circular economy.

And the range of extra-occupational training opportunities is also growing.

The experts trained in this way are intended to support companies with conversions - and not just in sectors that process materials themselves, such as the textile, chemical or automotive industries.

"Even large asset managers like Blackrock or consulting firms are dealing with the circular economy," says Hansen.

The demand is so great that he has to cancel lectures, rounds of talks or requests for cooperation from companies every day.

It's just getting too much.

One of the specialized bachelor’s courses is the one offered by the Wiener Neustadt University of Applied Sciences.

Students in the "Sustainable Production and Circular Economy" program learn how a circular economy system works.

After graduation, for example, as a product developer or development engineer, you can ensure that products last longer and are better reusable right from the design stage.

Or they can develop strategies for material cycles as project and resource managers.