A RECRUITMENT crisis in traditional engineering industries is leaving a widening skills gap as youngsters abandon what is seen as a declining sector.
The recruitment problems are highlighted in a series of reports examining skills shortages in 15 industries, which are based on industry surveys recommended by the Government's skills task force.
The first, published this week, showed that there are serious recruitment problems in construction and engineering, said Malcolm Wicks, the lifelong learning minister.
Further education is essential to the construction industry which relies heavily on craft and technical skills and not so much on low-skilled workers.
There remains a shortage of people trained in these skills, despite their declining share of the job market compared with management posts.
The industry says competition has meant slower wage inflation than in other sectors. Construction is seen as an industry where staff work hard for poor pay, and this is an obstacle to recruitment.
It says more women and members of ethnic minorities need to be attracted because it can no longer rely on its traditional supply of males aged 16-19. The report said there is a feeling that existing training programmes don't take into account increasing demand for a multi-skilled workforce.
It said: "There is a need to address criticisms that current training programmes do not entirely meet the needs of the industry, although employers in the construction secor have been encouraged to take ownership of training to overcome this problem."
In engineering, the main gaps are in technical and practical skills, although personal and generic skills are also lacking.
The engineering industry has shrunk, but an estimated 2.5 million people still work in occupations which involve some engineering.
The industry has lost 500,000 jobs since 1971, although, from 1995 to 98, there was a brief boom. Now jobs are expected to decline until 2004.
But it is expected that the rate at which people leave the industry or retire will still leave considerable scope for recruitment.
Structural changes in the industry mean a great proportion of the workforce needs to be highly-skilled and educated.
Even in expanding engineering industries, such as electronics which is forecast to grow by 8 per cent a year for five years, employers are struggling to meet their existing recruitment targets.
More than half of electronics recruiters report difficulties.
The report says: "Engineering has clearly not been getting its share of the student population and has had problems in attracting people of sufficient calibre into modern apprenticeship programmes."
It stressed that there was "no justification for reductions in the overall level of provision" in training in engineering but noted that the industry needed to make itself more attractive to potential recruits, improve workplace training and increase the opportunities for placements.
"I expect that the reports will provide the impetus for more partnerships to develop and to eliminate the skills gap altogether," said Mr Wicks.