Colleges striving to fill staff vacancies before term begins are losing out to higher-paying competitors in schools and industry, a survey by FE Focus has revealed.
And with little room for man-oeuvre in offering incentives, colleges - such as Amersham and Wycombe - are using Teachers' Pay Initiative funds to attract well-qualified staff and eliminate the lowest pay scales.
But the extra pound;50 million TPI cash and current level of annual settlements are failing to plug the drain of quality staff to schools and private industry. Anecdotal evidence to the Association of Colleges supports the survey results - principals report that they are losing staff to schools.
The curriculum areas hardest to fill are information technology, trade skills and engineering, accompanied by widespread demand for basic skills and learning support (see table). In these areas, between a fifth and one-third of colleges report recruitment difficulties.
The telephone and Internet survey of 50 colleges also showed shortages in business and professional courses and hairdressing and beauty. Among A-level subjects, there are still vacancies for psychology, maths, sciences and arts.
Information technology is an expanding area. Not only is it popular with young people but many employers are turning to colleges for help in upgrading their staff skills, so colleges need people with national vocational qualification assessor skills as well as lecturers.
Engineering, construction and trade skills, such as painting and decorating, plumbing and electrical installation, are also in short supply. Many colleges offer training, but when engineers and craftspeople can earn more than lecturers, there is little incentive to change career.
Human resources teams are at a loss where to advertise to attract people who have not yet considered the possibility of lecturing, and so do not read the education press.
The Association of College Managers anticipates particular problems for colleges designated Centres of Vocational Excellence (COVE). "They are running programmes in skill shortage areas in their community, so if those skills are in short supply, it must be difficult to get people to teach them," said the ACM's education officer Nadine Cartner.
And as with trade skills, professional expertise in areas such as administration, law and accountancy is better paid in business.
Outbid by industry on one side, colleges also have to compete with schools for A-level staff. Maths and science are in short supply, sports studies is expanding and performing arts and media are popular, says Sue Whitham, head of the directorate of the Sixth Form Colleges Employers' Forum.
Psychology - featured in the A-level category - is also expanding rapidly under Curriculum 2000's drive to broaden each student's education because it appeals as an extra "crossover" subject to both science and arts students.
The main reason given to FE Focus for recruitment difficulties was poor pay compared with industry and schools. This finding coincides with the detailed analysis carried out by the AOC in September 2001, when 70 per cent of respondents reported full-time teaching vacancies, with computer studies as the main shortage area.
The AOC will repeat its survey this September. Ivor Jones, its employment director, said: "We need to find out if it is worse than last year. Repayment of teachers' loans and the introduction of 'golden hellos' will open up in September. But FE lecturers are specifically excluded from low-cost homes initiatives."
Relocation packages have little impact on the cost of moving to the South-east. Free parking may not prompt many applications but childcare vouchers or free medical insurance could make a difference. Training is often offered to people with no teaching qualifications.
But the major incentive is the TPI. Occasionally it may be used to remove the bottom two points of the pay scale, but more usually it is offered to attract applicants with better qualifications.