The number of manufacturing jobs lost since 1997 has topped a million, new figures confirmed yesterday.
Jobs in manufacturing firms fell to 3.24 million in the quarter to January - 92,000 down on a year earlier and the lowest figure since records began in 1978.
The Engineering Employers' Federation said some of the job cuts had been caused by "inevitable" global restructuring, the constant drive to improve productivity and offshoring work to reduce costs.
But the group voiced growing concern that the UK business environment was becoming "less welcoming" in areas such as taxation and regulation.
Paul Holmes, Liberal Democrat Shadow Minister for Work, said: "Only ten per cent of the working population are now employed by the manufacturing industry compared to 33 per cent 40 years ago."
Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin warned: "These figures are truly disturbing."
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: " Industry's failure to invest and modernise in the face of international competition has got the manufacturing sector into serious trouble."
Derek Simpson, general secretary of Amicus, said: "Manufacturing jobs are vital to the economy, so every effort should be made to safeguard them. Much more still needs to be done but the Government is taking steps to stem the flow."
CBI director-general Sir Digby Jones added: "The manufacturing share of the jobs market has declined across the western world over the past eight years. But because of the robustness of the UK economy we have been able to adapt to this change more readily than many other countries. This is why UK manufacturers need to distinguish themselves on quality, not quantity."
Unemployment increased by 22,000 in the quarter, according to the ILO measure. There were 1.4 million people out of work in the period after a big rise in the number of unemployed men.
West Midlands unemployment was 126,000, down 7,000, 4.8 per cent of the workforce.
The East Midlands equivalent was 90,000, up 4,000, 4.2 per cent.
Nationally, the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefit fell last month by 700 to 813,300, the lowest since the summer of 1975.
The West Midlands seasonally adjusted total was 83,600, down 900, 3.1 per cent of the workforce. The unadjusted equivalent was unchanged at 89,400, 3.3 per cent.
The national ILO unemployment rate is now 4.7 per cent, up by 0.1 per cent, while the claimant count rate last month was 2.6 per cent, unchanged from January.
UK employment has reached a record high of 28.57 million, after an increase of 127,000 in the latest quarter.
The employment rate is now
74.9 per cent, the highest since 1990, National Statistics said.
Average earnings increased by 4.4 per cent in the year to January. Earnings grew by 4.5 per cent in the public sector compared with 4.4 per cent in private firms.