While the economy has moved towards service industries, the decline in engineering skills has continued to outstrip the decline in jobs in the industry.
Engineering employers face a public relations battle to convince teenagers that their industry is a career worth embarking on.
The point is not lost on the Institute of Engineering and Technology, which says a growing shortage of skilled UK workers is causing a recruitment crisis in the industry. It warns there is little confidence that the situation could be improved in the short to medium term.
The institute's annual skills survey of 500 companies also found that 48 per cent had been forced to cover specific skills shortages by recruiting from countries such as India, South Africa and China.
Meanwhile, the number of companies who said they expected to face difficulties in recruiting suitably qualified engineers or technicians over the next four years rose from 40.2 per cent in 2006 to 51.8 per cent this year.
Paul Jackson, director of professional operations at the institute, said: "The engineering and technology sector is vital to the future prosperity of the UK's economy, and skills shortages put the growth and competitive advantage of many businesses into serious doubt. The UK desperately needs to increase its pool of engineers and technicians to meet demand."
The survey found that employers are pessimistic about recruitment with only 56 per cent believing they would be able to hire the people they need this year down from 65 per cent in 2006.
One firm said it had been forced to plug the skills gap by bringing in trained engineers who had completed its apprenticeship programme in Germany, adding that the industry needed a combination of measures to bridge the gap.
More than 70 per cent of companies said they were struggling to recruit experienced or mid-career level staff.
A lack of leadership skills was also cited as a problem.