Training body ConstructionSkills has revealed that 610 apprentices from its 11,000-strong programme have been laid off since July

The news comes after the body warned in September that more than 1,000 apprentices could be made redundant as a result of the downturn. Some commentators now think the figure could be higher, with a union source saying he believed an extra 400 places were at risk.

Industry figures have now warned that the construction sector faces prolonged skills shortages in the future.

Graham Watts, chief executive of the Construction Industry Council, said: “In the last recession the industry lost half a million people; it took us 18 years to get over that. If apprentices continue to be laid off, I fear we will make the same mistake. If they’re losing work, they won’t trust the construction sector.”

ConstructionSkills created an apprenticeship “matching service” in September to help apprentices laid off in housebuilding to complete their training. But of the 610 made redundant, it said only 123 had found employers.

If trainees lose work, they won’t trust the construction sector again.

Graham Watts, CIC

Nigel Donohue, business services director of ConstructionSkills, said: “The long-term trend is for rising levels of activity, so it is imperative for the industry to continue to train.”

Watts criticised the body for focusing on enticing apprentices by changing the industry’s image.

“That money should be going towards the protection of employers to help them keep apprentices on,” he said.

Ian Johnson, managing director of electrical contractor Eric Johnson of Northwich, said his firm had taken on apprentices since it was founded in 1946. However, he said it had laid off 12 of its 20 trainees, and that the remainder would follow in the new year if work did not pick up.