Skills continue to be a major challenge for the construction industry, according to the chair of the Cumbria House Builders Group.

Nicky Gordon, who is also managing director of Penrith-headquartered Genesis Homes, said the issue extended across all trades in the sector.

His comments come as the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) research revealed that employment levels among small construction firms dropped for the first time in more than five years, with 21 per cent reporting a reduced workforce for the second quarter of 2019.

Its State of Trade Survey found that bricklayers were shortest in supply, with 60 per cent of construction SMEs struggling to hire the trade, closely followed by carpenters and joiners.

Workloads for construction SMEs grew slightly, with 27 per cent reporting higher workloads compared to 22 per cent for the first quarter in 2019.

However, the outlook weakened slightly, with 37 per cent of business surveyed forecasting higher workloads over the coming three months, compared to 41 per cent for the first quarter.

The survey also revealed that industry bosses are reorganising their workforce in preparation for a potential downturn, by increasing sub-contracting and lowering the level of direct employees.

Mr Gordon said: “In terms of skills/trades on site, this is an area where we continue to find challenges but not just with bricklayers and joiners; there are skills shortages across all trades.

“This is a major concern for the industry.

“As chair of Cumbria House Builders Group, we are very focused on addressing this issue, as all our members face the same problems in terms of recruiting into the industry and having access to good trades people.

“That said, Genesis Homes is implementing a ‘home grown’ strategy and currently employs four apprentices, plus we had two work experience students from local schools during ‘work experience’ week.

“We are positive about the next 12-18 months and will be working with other house builders to overcome the shortage of skilled trades.”

Mr Gordon added that Genesis Homes had not seen a slow-down in its work and had recruited three new members of staff at its head office.

“We continue to go from strength-to-strength and accelerate our sustainable plans for growth.

“Sales continue apace with only nine properties remaining on our Wigton development and our Armathwaite scheme is 50 per cent sold only four months after its launch.

“We will launch a further two sites before the end of the year. Further to this we recently announced the acquisition of five new sites, investing a further £43.5m into the Cumbrian region.”

Meanwhile, Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said “years of Brexit uncertainty” had led construction bosses to change the way they employ their workforces, “relying more on sub-contractors who are easier to shed if work dries up”.

“The construction industry has always used a significant proportion of subbies but the fact that direct employment is decreasing, points to Brexit nerves among construction bosses,” he said.

“This is the reality on the ground of what happens when years of uncertainty are inflicted on the construction industry. Furthermore, apprenticeship training has taken a hit as construction bosses are reluctant to take on young people when they can’t be sure of future projects going ahead.”