The UK construction skills shortage is forcing many firms to turn away work according to new findings from ECIS, the employee benefits company for the construction industry.

In a survey of 200 tradespeople including plumbers, builders and electricians, 24% of the respondents said they had struggled to find skilled people in the past year. As a result, out of this group, half said they have had to turn work away. Furthermore, 48% said the skills shortage had put more pressure on them as a business and, worryingly, 19% had employed unskilled labour to help meet demands.

Plumbers, electricians, painters and decorators, along with general builders, have been the most affected by the skills shortage according to the survey and had to say 'no' to new business.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a massive 87% of workers surveyed in the construction sector would encourage a young person to join their industry. Despite these pressures, only 15% of respondents have considered leaving their profession in the past year – a significant drop on the findings of the survey last year, when 26% said they had thought about forging a new career outside of the sector.

Phil Scarrett, sales and marketing director for ECIS, said: "No business wants to turn work away so the feedback from this survey really underlines how serious the skills shortage issue has become. However, with demand outstripping supply, tradespeople may find themselves in a more powerful position when negotiating contracts which is perhaps why overall, only 15% have considered a change of career in the past year. It is also little wonder that 87% feel there are good opportunities for young people in their sector.

"With one in five firms resorting to unskilled labour to fulfil contracts and the new Construction and Design Management regulations in place from 6 April, contractors who are already under pressure will have their work cut out to ensure workplace risks are properly managed."