A lack of well trained staff has led to sharp rise in salaries in some areas and forced firms to turn away work

Skills shortages in the construction industry are having a direct and serious impact on firms’ margins, according to a survey by accountant KPMG.

Almost half of the 147 executives interviewed said profit had been squeezed by the higher wages needed to attract staff.

The second most serious problem, identified by 19% of respondents, was having to turn work away because of lack of capacity.

Human resources directors at contractors and housebuilders said the biggest recruitment challenge was finding quantity surveyors and estimators.

One director, who did not want to be named, said: “We are having to bump up salary offers to estimators and surveyors just to get mediocre staff, which is a problem because now that housing schemes are getting more complicated and the work more challenging, it is essential that you have talented surveyors.”

Most companies said staff retention was less of an issue.

CITB–ConstructionSkills came under renewed criticism for failing to address the general question of training satisfactorily. Respondents also complained that although many students were graduating with engineering degrees, few were choosing to work in the industry.

An increase in salary and benefits and more training and career progression opportunities were cited as the two areas most likely to improve the appeal of the industry.

Seventy eight per cent of respondents said that government schemes had failed to make any difference to industry skill shortages in the past two years.

The survey also found that there was a general perception among executives that European workers were more skilled than their British counterparts.

Fifty six per cent said that the enlargement of the European Union had had a positive influence on business; 46% said health and safety concerns and language problems meant that it had had a negative impact.

Richard Whittington, head of building and construction at KPMG said: “Skills shortages remain a huge issue. Nearly half of our respondents thought skills shortages would lead to a further squeeze on profit margins as wages rose.”