Plans to raise standards will put more pressure on recruitment as staff, already leaving in droves for better pay elsewhere, are asked to satisfy even tougher demands.
The alarm bells have been rung by David Hunter, chief executive of the Further Education National Training Organisation, which is attempting to create a skills council encompassing higher education and work-based learning.
He said: "We have got to have the highest quality. This means we are asking more of people which means it is even more important to offer the right rewards. We want people to see the profession as something they can feel proud to be in."
A report commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills shows 520,000 people need to be recruited into post-16 by the end of the decade.
FE, with its own pay and condition problems, faces the toughest challenge, says the report, Post-16 education and training and skills dialogue, by the Institute for Employment Studies.
The report, which has not been widely circulated, says: "The FE and community-based learning sectors are likely to be relatively harder hit, with low pay having a knock-on effect on recruitment."
The report essentially supports what the Assocation of Colleges has been arguing for - extra funding to increase retention. Ivor Jones, employment policy director at the AoC, said: "We have got a vacancy level twice as high as schools. Unfortunately, one of the key issues is pay.
"We have been working with Fento on occupational standards but there is a big drain on the system as far as retention is concerned because people see if they go to the local sixth-form college they can get a pound;4,000 hike."
A spokeswoman for the DfES said: "We are providing substantial additional core funding for FE colleges, enabling them to raise salary levels, ensure better rewards for high-performing staff and tackle specific recruitment and retention problems across the FE workforce."