The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) announced the September results of its monthly Future Trends Survey, which was established in January 2009 to monitor business and employment trends affecting the architecture profession.
The trends emanating from this months survey present modest improvements to the August results, both in terms of workload prediction and staffing. More practices predicted an increase in workload, (33 per cent in September, compared to 22 per cent in August), representing some optimism, although this indicator has been quite volatile over the last quarter and does not represent a sustained trend of confidence growth. There were also very minimal changes in the number of practices predicting a decline in workload (16 per cent in September compared to 15 per cent in August) and levels of underemployment (29 per cent of practices stated they were underemployed in September, and 30 per cent in August).
Both private housing and commercial work sectors presented improvements with predicted increases in workloads; 32 per cent of practices expected private housing work to increase (growing from 25 per cent in August), and 17 per cent predicted more commercial work, compared to 12 per cent in August. In September, only 16 per cent of practices expected more public sector work, which was a drop of 5 per cent from the August figures.
Changes in predictions for staff retention also reflected tentative improvements, with September's figures remaining very similar to August. Only 5 per cent of practices predicted an increase in staff (a marginal improvement to 4 per cent in August), and 13 per cent expected a decrease (compared to 15 per cent in August). There was also a 1 per cent improvement in the number of women employed in practice, with 21 per cent in September, compared to 20 per cent in August.
The statistical analysis of the survey enables the RIBA to regularly report on two key confidence tracking indices relating to future workloads and staffing levels. For September 2009, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index is +17 (compared to +7 in August 2009) and the RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index is -8 (compared to -11 in August 2009).
"The September figures reflect modest improvements across staffing and workloads, but it is clear that practices are not yet sufficiently confident of improvement in workload prospects to return to recruitment on any significant scale; nearly one third of survey respondents continue to indicate that they are currently personally under-employed," said Adrian Dobson, RIBA Director of Practice.
"The survey also collects anecdotal evidence from participating practices about the market for architects' services. An emerging theme is the difficulty of demonstrating value to clients in an intensely competitive marketplace. Many respondents comment that the value of architects' services still appears to be ill defined for clients, in comparison with other players such as planning consultants, quantity surveyors, project managers, engineers and even party wall surveyors and CDM co-ordinators. At the same time as facing this competition to stake out the high value consultancy and project leadership services, architects feel under increasing competitive pressure from 'architectural consultants', plan-drawers and other non-architects offering low-cost architectural documentation services. It is widely felt that there is an important role for the RIBA in helping to define and promote the specific value and benefits of using an architect."