Industry confidence has taken a hammering across the board, with 47% of all companies seeing their turnover fall in the past 12 months.
These are among the findings of the Employer Attitudes and Motivations report by CITB-ConstructionSkills.
Across the industry, income fell by an average of 29%. Sole traders were hardest hit, with 54% reporting a drop in trade, followed closely by small firms employing between two and nine staff, at 48%.
The future is not much brighter. More than half (56%) of respondents said that either the next 12 months provided no business opportunities (29%), or that they didn’t know where the opportunities would come from (27%).
These trends have taken their toll on employment levels across the sector, with 36% of employers claiming to have laid staff off. Carpenters or joiners accounted for 25% of the lost jobs, labourers 24% and managers 23%.
CITB-ConstructionSkills chief executive Mark Farrar said: “It has been another testing year for the construction and built environment industry. Times are tough and businesses need as much support as possible.
“Through listening to employers we know that their main challenges are reducing their expenditure, increased competition for contracts and preparing for new environmental legislation.
“We are further developing training packages to address these concerns, consulting with central and local government to ensure that the public money which is being spent is done so transparently with a positive impact on the industry’s skills and continuing to speak with central and local governments about the positive impact construction has on local jobs.
“We’ve also implemented initiatives such as our Cut the Carbon campaign, which help to prepare the industry for new ‘green legislation’ and give them the skills they need to be as competitive as possible.”
On a regional level, there were mixed fortunes for different areas. In the southeast, for example, indicative figures show that there was a 13% spike in overall staff numbers, compared to a reduction of between 16-18% in Northern Ireland, London and the southwest.
Almost a third (29%) of businesses have reduced their training budgets. This pattern looks likely to continue into 2012, with 20% of employers planning to scale training back even further.
Mr Farrar continued: “When budgets are tight, training is sadly often one of the first areas to be reined in. This is particularly concerning given that one in six workers will retire in the next ten years, leaving a gaping hole in the industry’s skill base.”