UK Architects remain confident on future workloads – RIBA

Overall confidence levels about future workload prospects for architects continue to be very positive across the whole of the UK, according to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) September 2014 Future Trends Survey results.

The RIBA Future Trends Workload Index increased marginally this month, standing at +29 in September 2014, up from +28 in August 2014, maintaining the consistently strong workload forecast that has been seen throughout the current calendar year.

Northern Ireland and the North of England, which were the slowest to show signs of recovery, are currently the most confident about an increase in work in progress in the next quarter, returning balance figures of +80 and +46 respectively.

Small practices (1-10 staff) remain positive about the outlook for future workloads (with a balance figure of +28), medium-sized practices (10 – 50 staff) are more confident (balance figure of +37), and large-sized practices (51+ staff) are the most optimistic about the likely shape of their medium-term order books (with a balance figure of +60).

The private housing sector forecast recovered the ground it lost in August, rising from +23 to stand at +30 in September 2014. The commercial sector forecast fell back from +23 in August to +19 this month. However, both the public sector forecast (balance figure +5) and the community sector forecast (balance figure +7) saw modest increases this month.

“Although the private housing and commercial sectors clearly offer the best current prospects, there is a sense of greater stability in public sector workloads, with larger practices in particular becoming more optimistic about a more predictable pipeline of public sector construction expenditure, and modest signs of increasing activity in the community sector,” said RIBA Director of Practice Adrian Dobson.

The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index increased this month, rising to +15 in September 2014 compared with +13 in August 2014, remaining strongly in positive territory, with only 2% of practices predicting a decrease in overall permanent staffing levels over the next quarter.

However, this confidence is not yet manifesting itself in a significant increase in aggregate staffing levels across the profession, although RIBA says it is starting to receive reports of practices experiencing difficulties in recruiting staff with particular skill sets, especially in London and the South of England.

In September 2014, the percentage of respondents reporting that they had personally been under-employed in September 2014 was 17%, up from 13% in August.

“Our anecdotal commentary from RIBA members suggests that the overall market outlook for architects’ services continues to improve, with many practices reporting a sustained increases in their overall work levels. However, there remains significant competitive pressure on fees and whilst aggregate turnover is rising, profit margins on projects often remain very tight,” Dobson added.

The workload and staffing balance figures are defined as the difference between those expecting more work/to employ more permanent staff and those expecting less/to employ fewer.

Completed by a mix of small, medium and large firms based on a geographically representative sample, the RIBA Future Trends Survey was launched in January 2009 to monitor business and employment trends affecting the architects’ profession.

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