With tens of thousands set to quit , FE may have to take a cue from the NHS , reports Joseph Lee
Colleges may be forced to launch a recruitment drive for foreign lecturers as they are hit by a wave of departures over the next five years.
Lifelong Learning UK, the organisation responsible for developing the FE workforce, has warned that about 135,000 new college staff will need to be recruited by 2010, about 48 per cent of the current total.
Growth in further education and an ageing workforce, with 44 per cent of workers over the age of 45, are behind the demand.
David Hunter, LLUK's chief executive, told the House of Commons education select committee that colleges may have to follow the health service in recruiting large numbers of staff abroad.
About one in ten registered nurses or midwives is now from outside the European Union, and they represent about a third of new entrants to their professions every year.
Mr Hunter said: "We may have to look outside the European community...
There just may not be the workforce available in these roles.
"We are going in front of Department for Education and Skills officials saying this is the situation, these are our suggestions, this is what we have got to do.
"I wouldn't say it's an impending crisis, but it's a very serious issue for all sector skills councils and a very, very big issue for us."
Mr Hunter did not know which countries the UK would try to recruit from, and said it was possible that prospective overseas staff would have to be trained from scratch.
He acknowledged that recruiting abroad for public services had proved controversial in the NHS and said that LLUK would do everything it could to find staff in Britain.
An advertising campaign, similar to the "Use Your Head - Teach" campaign for school teachers, could help encourage people to choose a career in FE.
He said they may also need to find incentives to encourage lecturers to remain in teaching. Mr Hunter has argued in the past for better pay to attract staff to FE.
"We have never promoted FE as a career of first choice. We need to say this is an important role, this is a life-changing role," Mr Hunter said.
Barry Lovejoy, head of colleges at the lecturers' union Natfhe, said the unfair treatment of FE staff had created the conditions for a potential recruitment crisis.
He said: "Without better pay and less casualisation, colleges will find the struggle to replace significant numbers of retiring lecturers will be intensified.
"Trainees will opt for the better pay and conditions offered by schools, and people in industry won't be willing to sacrifice decent pay to move into FE."
He said that employing foreign lecturers could raise ethical dilemmas.
Colleges must be careful to strike a balance between the rights of overseas teachers to further their careers in the UK, and the potential damage to education in poorer countries, he said.
Sue Dutton, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said that colleges saw pay and conditions as the key to recruiting and holding on to staff, and that few institutions were considering recruiting abroad at the moment.
"Introducing an international workforce may be part of the broader market implications which colleges need to consider but they are not a primary consideration," she said.