Many further education colleges are failing to provide engineering employers with enough tailored training courses to cover the specific skills firms need, according to the Engineer Training Authority.
The criticism, which is also levelled at independent training centres, is one of the key findings of a survey of 1,500 engineering employers and 600 training providers.
Sue Peacock, head of policy at EnTra, said that the survey reveals a reduction in employers' use of colleges for traditional engineering programmes and a growing need for FE to adapt to new demands. "The incorporation of colleges should encourage stronger customer focus," she said.
A draft report of the study - the final report is to be published later this year - says that of the employers surveyed, 60 per cent feel that training both at independent centres and at colleges is not specialised enough, 30 per cent say that there is a lack of suitable courses and 16 per cent say that the training is of poor quality or out of date.
A significant number also complained that courses were inflexible and too expensive.
Further education colleges attracted the fiercest criticism, and employers said it was the poor equipment in institutions and their lack of flexibility that was most to blame. Employers also feared that lack of funding would mean that out-of-date equipment would not be replaced.
But a number of employers felt that colleges could not be expected to keep up with the most modern equipment and that the specialist needs of firms could not really be met by the further education sector.
These employers felt that colleges would be better off concentrating on providing basic training and allowing specialist needs to be catered for by other routes.
The experience and qualification of trainers in colleges also attracted considerable criticism from firms surveyed with a significant number saying that lecturers were out of touch with industry and "tended to teach by the text book".
In general, companies believe that commercial providers were "more in touch with industry than further education".