ONE in four colleges struggles to recruit fully-qualified managers because of the low level of pay, a new survey has revealed.
The Further Education National Training Organisation (FENTO) has warned that standards could fall unless college management skills improve.
The report, which surveyed 123 colleges in the UK, said: "This is extremely worrying in a public sector that is already under substantial pressure to deliver continuously improving results."
One in 10 colleges admitted that it was either forced to hire managers who "are recognised as weak", or failed to recruit at all.
FENTO said that the problem of skills shortages "is exacerbated by colleges' inability to compete for the more highly paid people in the labour market". ` Peter Pendle, the general secretary of the Association for College Management, said: "The role of college managers throughout the hierarchy is becoming more complex and they need more and more skills."
He added: "As more and more colleges delegate budget management, managers need the skills to be able to do that. But the report does show that managers are addressing the issue."
The study found 42 per cent of colleges identify performance management as a skills gap. This is up from 35 per cent last year.
The report said: "There is evidence that colleges are currently more aware of skills gaps in their managers than before and also that there is more concern about business development skills in all categories of staff."
FENTO put this response down to the increasing complexity of further education and the creation of the Learning and Skills Council.
Paul Mackney, the general secretary of the lecturers' union NATFHE, said:
"Managers need to be able to turn water into wine to reach the achievement targets demanded by the government on the meagre funds given to them. Colleges have had year on year cuts since 1992.
"Unless the government improves the core funding for students, no amount of management training is going to help.
"To solve the recruitment problem of qualified lecturers, the pay of lecturers needs to be put back in line with teachers."
FENTO found recruitment problems extended to lecturers and teachers, with 62 per cent of colleges failing to recruit accountancy lecturers and 22 per cent failing to recruit engineering lecturers.
Almost one in 10 full-time and one in four part-time lecturers are not qualified to teach - although 85 per cent of all staff do have some teaching qualifications.
It is also becoming increasingly difficult to hire even basic-grade lecturers, because they are attracted by higher rates of pay in schools.
The report said: "Failure to recruit leads to greater workloads for existing staff and greater reliance on temporary or part-time workers.
"It is virtually inevitable that, in these circumstances, standards do fall ... as a consequence, local learning needs cannot be met."