Manufacturing companies need to battle service sector firms for the best young talent if they are to survive and thrive in the future, it was claimed yesterday.
Nick Brayshaw, chairman of the CBI's national manufacturing council, said too many companies had been complacent when it came to recruitment.
Speaking at the Manufacturing Live event in Telford, he said they had to change perceptions and take on the likes of the accountants if they were to attract potential high flyers.
He said: " PricewaterhouseCoopers and other firms have promoted themselves extremely well to graduates.
"Even a lot of the engineering and technical graduates are going into accountancy rather than manufacturing.
"We need to shout out what modern manufacturing means."
Mr Brayshaw said there was a view that UK manufacturing lagged the reality, with the country being particularly successful in the aerospace, pharmaceuticals and engine design sectors.
He said: "There is a perception in the Government, schools, and the City that manufacturing is not progressing in the way it is.
"There have been initiatives to address this, but we have to put more structure into it.
"We have to give greater understanding and describe what modern manufacturing looks like.
"Too many teachers, parents and young school children still think manufacturing is just about production. Modern manufacturing is more than just production. It encompasses everything from design through to service.
"It is one of the biggest users of computer technology with the people using IT skills and computer-aided design."
A disproportionate number of young people thought you had to be physically strong to work in manufacturing, which was often seen as a dangerous job, Mr Brayshaw said.
It was also not seen as a sensible career for women.
A renewed effort was needed, with 11,000 technical graduates needed by 2010, while in the West Midlands alone two thirds of the skilled manufacturing workforce are aged over 45.
Mr Brayshaw said there were almost too many initiatives at present in schools around the country which needed to be organised into a more coherent system.
"Many of these schemes are really good, but they are not nationally organised and need to be so the best practice from each one can be used.
"This is needed for demographic reasons; even if we stand still we are still going to need more recruits.
"But the industry is also changing. Manufacturing employs three and a half to four million in the UK, half of them unskilled. As we move to a knowledge-based, valueadded economy, these unskilled jobs are going to disappear, so we need to start interesting people when they are younger."
Companies like Land Rover, BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce would still be employers of choice, but not enough had been done to attract recruits.
More companies should look at linking with schools and providing site visits to fire children's minds.
"Manufacturers have not done enough to promote themselves to the next generation. But Britain has a number of inherent advantages; the English language, our history of innovation, our international economy. Now we need to change perceptions about the industry."