Employers in further education are struggling to recruit skilled staff in key fields because the sector's public profile is so low that many fail to consider it as a career option, new research reveals.
A report for Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK) by GHK Consulting. shows the subject areas badly hit include the arts, media, construction, engineering, health, information technology, leisure and tourism, retail and commercial enterprise, science and mathematics.
Some staff shortages, such as in construction and retail and hospitality, affect all types of further education, according to the survey of 160 providers, including general FE colleges, sixth forms, work-based learning providers and adult and community learning providers.
Others are less generalised, with acute shortages of science and maths staff in sixth form colleges, and manufacturing specialists in colleges and among work-based learning providers.
A second report for LLUK, by FDS International, found that many people are put off a career in further education by perceptions of low pay, although this varied depending on the industry.
Construction workers tend to see pay in FE as a barrier, often because they are used to working overtime to supplement their income. But health care workers tend to see the salaries as a draw. Retail workers think that further education offers better opportunities for promotion to management.
The biggest draws are the sense of giving something back to society and a perception that the sector offers a good lifestyle and working conditions, including flexible working, long holidays and less stress.
However, many respondents simply failed to consider FE at all. This was because of its low profile, the report says. Some, like those in the science, technology, engineering and maths, considered FE to be little more than evening classes.
Research carried out for LLUK by 72 Point what people thought about teaching, found that nearly 62 per cent of employees in other industries had never considered the job as a career option. Of the 38 per cent that had, only a third thought of teaching in further education, while two- thirds thought about it only in relation to schools.
Alan Clarke, sector engagement manager for LLUK, said: "What this research is clearly showing is that there are people who have gained fantastic experience in their careers who have clearly never thought about working in FE.
"The lack of visibility is an issue. We are not always perceived to be a major employer. I think we have been hiding our light too much."
Mr Clarke said too few people realise the value of the skills they have acquired. "People do not realise that a lot of the skills they have are transferable and have a value in the FE sector," he said.
LLUK is trying to raise awareness of further education as a career opportunity through its Catalyst programme, including the Pass on Your Skills initiative, he said.