THE construction boom has resulted in a major headache for personnel managers at FE colleges.
Reports of plumbers and other tradesmen earning up to pound;70,000 a year have led to a sharp increase in the number of people enrolling on construction courses.
Colleges desperately need to recruit more lecturers in these areas to cope with expanding departments, but they are being enticed away by the amount of money on offer to skilled workers in the private sector.
The staffing crisis looks set to deepen as many lecturers are tempted back into industry.
Rob Rowe, head of personnel at Worcester College of Technology, which is advertising for a lecturer in bricklaying, at pound;26,000, said: "In all areas of teaching, we're getting fewer applicants than we were three years ago.
"In most areas the number of applicants is down by about 30 per cent. In construction it's more like 40 per cent.
"It's more difficult getting qualified staff because there is currently such demand in industry and they can earn much more out there.
"We are experiencing particular difficulty in the plumbing area, where we've got massive demand for courses but it is difficult to recruit lecturers.
"Everyone knows that the salary for lecturers is very low compared to what they would get in industry. So why do they stay in colleges? I have to say I don't know. I certainly wouldn't if I were them.
"I don't believe it's a case of 'those who can, do, and those who can't, teach', because we've got some highly skilled people here who could easily earn much better salaries outside FE - but they choose not to."
Ian Clark is vice-principal of Plymouth College, which is this week advertising for lecturers in decorating, plumbing, wood occupations and construction, with each post at a salary of pound;27,000.
He said: "Our problem is not so much with turnover of staff. It is with keeping up with the demand in these areas.
"The number of people enrolling in plumbing courses has jumped from 270 last year to 375 this year.
"It is difficult finding the skilled, experienced staff we need to cope with that sort of expansion.
"Further education can never hope to match the salaries offered in the private sector. For instance, an air conditioning technician in our region earns more than pound;35,000 a year plus a company car.
"Also, we can't start paying some lecturers more than others just because they would earn more in the private sector. That would create internal difficulties.
"It would be more relevant to come up with a pay scale that is comparable to that offered in schools and sixth form colleges.
"That way we can compete against the rest of the education sector for staff, because we are never likely to have enough money to tempt experienced people out of industry."