The industry is promoting apprenticeships in 5,000 schools and colleges in an effort to shake off its bottom-flaunting, wolf-whistling image.
But only 8,000 to 10,000 people have signed up since its launch last August. Around 350,000 skilled workers are needed before 2003, an average of around 70,000 new recruits per year.
Hugh Try, the chairman of the Construction Industry Training Board, which runs the apprenticeships, said: "The industry is crying out for new recruits."
CITB research found construction to be well regarded by only 15 per cent of 15- to 17-year-olds, less than a third of those who viewed the motor industry and the media favourably.
Bosses are determined to prove the industry has opportunities for managers, architects and engineers as well as bricklayers and builders.
The launch of an advertising campaign in May targeting women and ethnic minorities has yet to prove fruitful. Only 1.2 per cent of the construction workforce are women, or 10 per cent if office work is included. A report by the University of London's Royal Holloway College found construction had a lower proportion of ethnic workers than any other industry.