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Soap's knickers manufacture jobs crisis

Mike Baldwin's knickers factory is getting young people in a twist about careers in manufacturing, say academics.

They believe the underworld factory's portrayal in Coronation Street is affecting the number of students applying for manufacturing-related courses.

Stereotypes of a working-class industry of badly-paid workers and sexist bosses could lead to a chronic skills shortage, fears Wrexham's North East Wales institute of higher education.

Popular TV programmes such as Coronation Street are having a big impact on young people's career choices and could signal the death of some industries. Numbers are up on the institute's forensic science course, however, because of popular series such as Waking the Dead and CSI:Crime Scene Investigation.

The way the underwear factory is shown in one of Britain's favourite soaps is worrying tutors at the institute.

"I am begging the Coronation Street scriptwriters to consider making the factory more glamorous and successful," said Professor Mike Scott, the institute's principal and chief executive. "They should look at how clean and efficient most factories are now and the real opportunities they offer for career advancement and international travel. We work with great UK manufacturers such as Airbus and Jaguar, but I'm worried that we won't be able to keep supplying talented graduates in the future unless the image of manufacturing is improved," he said.

In Wales, 17 per cent of the population works in manufacturing compared with 13 per cent across the UK.

The institute interviewed 200 teenagers at a recent open day. Its findings are backed by Department for Education and Skills figures which show that while 23,000 graduates gained a degree in an engineering-related subject in 1993, only 13,600 are forecast to do so in 2006 - a 41 per cent reduction in take-up in nine years.

The study found young people thought manufacturing was "boring, dirty and smelly".

Sue Nelson, who led the study, said such views had prompted the institute to look at ways of getting employers and careers advisers to promote manufacturing and engineering, especially among girls.

"We are finding trends in take-up of courses match changes in fashion," she said. "We've noticed a bigger take-up on the forensic science courses as well as the built environment and estates management courses, probably as a result of the popularity of crime and makeover programmes on TV."

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