Birmingham must reduce the brain drain of its brightest graduates and retrain its workers to face a "frightening and exciting future", it was claimed last night.

While manufacturing remained vital to the Midland economy, increasingly information and communication technology will be the "jewel in the crown," Ian Squires said.

Mr Squires, president of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCI), said more needed to be done to address the widening skills gap if the city was to make the transition from metal bashing to high-tech industry.

Speaking at the BCI's annual banquet, which was held at the International Convention Centre last night, he called on local businesses to help develop a vision for the next ten years.

He said: "Information and communication technology could be the jewel in the crown. This is where the growth potential lies, especially in systems and techniques that will bring about the convergence of differing and sometimes competing technologies.

"Do we have the skills at the right levels? Can we retain the skills, or will they drain?

"That is why we start this very evening with a call to arms from the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry to begin the debate, to answer these questions, to see where we have the most opportunity and leverage.

"We'll need to find new and more responsive ways to employ people and retain them. Employers will need to take much more account of the workforce's views and desires, not in the collective sense, but of recognising people as what they are, individuals."

Mr Squires said Birmingham benefited from academic excellence and research.

But these needed to integrate more fully with the business, commercial and future planning process.

He said: "We need them and their graduates to stay."

Mr Squires said: "Twenty per cent of Birmingham's GDP continues to come from the manufacturing sector and although the new manufacturing may be less to do with metal and more to do with micro-processors, we under-stand the concept and are skilled practitioners of it.

Mr Squires said the professional and business services were second to none and growing in impact, while the region has some excellent and pioneering ICT Businesses, which needed support.

He challenged local companies to join the chamber in the weeks and months ahead "to develop a view of what sort of business city we want Birmingham to be."

He said: "It is a world of decreasing structure, where the old orders break down. It is a world of the very very big and the very very small, where culture and cost vie for supremacy. But we relish change. We live by change. Few cities have overhauled themselves as significantly as Birmingham has done and continues to."