The nation's manufacturers need access to a larger hiring pool of scientists and engineers if they are to compete with their counterparts in Japan and elsewhere, the president of Eastman Kodak Co. says.

"Unfortunately, too many of our kids today are unable to learn and ill-equipped to hold a job," said Kay R. Whitmore at a Science and Industry Retreat at the University of Utah this week.Whitmore urged educators to turn out more graduates with a firm grounding in science, mathematics and English who "most importantly, have the capacity and willingness to learn throughout their lives."

Whitmore said the fastest-growing segments of the work force "are those with which our educational system has done poorest." By the year 2000, 80 percent of the people entering the work force will be women, minorities and immigrants.

"In order to remain competitive in an increasingly global economy, it is essential that we find more effective ways to bring women and minorities into the science and engineering talent pool."

Whitmore said National Alliance of Business figures show the number of available jobs increasing by 15.6 million from 1985 to 1995, but the number of workers available will rise by only 13.7 million.

That means businesses will pay increasing salaries for the few skilled people, he said. "And in hiring the rest, we'll either have to hire a million new workers a year who can't read, write or count - or import them."