Further education colleges are suffering from severe skills shortages because qualified lecturers are being lured into better paid jobs in industry and schools, a national survey has found.
The problems are most acute in the teaching and use of information technology, where further education is aiming to make big strides into contributing more to lifelong learning.
The Further Education National Training Organisation conducted a survey of 142 colleges across the United Kingdom. It found that nearly two-thirds of colleges reported difficulties recruiting IT lecturers. More than a third said they faced a "substantial problem".
More than half of colleges said their lecturers lacked skills in using IT in the curriculum, and nearly half identified skills gaps among their lecturers in teaching online. More than a third of colleges had lecturers who were not even proficient in IT for personal use. Providing help online was also the biggest problem among learning support staff, affecting a third of colleges.
The survey found that qualified lecturers were in short supply in other fields, such as engineering, construction, accounting and science. Two out of five colleges had problems recruiting course and programme leaders - usually the first promotion for lecturers.
Competition for workers from industry and schools was regularly cited by colleges as the main reason for unfilled staff vacancies and, in the case of IT, posts being filled by less able candidates.
A report on the findings says: "Colleges are clear in their belief that the inability to pay attractive salaries and the competition that arises out of alternative employment opportunities are the main reasons for recruitment difficulties."
After curriculum changes introduced last year, there has been especially intense competition between schools and colleges for key skills and IT teachers.
The report warns: "The level of IT and ILT skills gaps reported for lecturers gives major cause for concern. There must be grave doubts about the sector's ability to make a sufficient contribution to effective and efficient growth of IT literacy and the wider use of ILT in the UK."
Geoff Terry, Fento's chief executive, said that the extra Pounds 50 million earmarked by the government last year to boost lecturers' salaries and to fund more professional training would need to be focused on skills shortage areas identified in the survey to have a real impact.
The report suggests that a national promotional campaign to raise the image of further education as a good employer is needed. It also seeks improved pay and conditions for college staff and calls for more cooperative regional training initiatives and secondments for staff to and from industry.