The latest results of the Royal Institute of British Architects' (RIBA) Future Trends Survey highlight a significant improvement in architects' workload levels, with the Workload Index producing the best figure in six months, and predicted improvements across all work sector forecasts.
The number of practices expecting their workload to increase rose from 21% in November to 26% in December; only 27% of practices expected their workload to decrease in December, compared to 36% in November, representing a 9% drop. Employment prospects for salaried architects saw minimal change, with 6% of architects expecting an increase in staff in December, compared to 5% in November. The number of practices expecting staff levels to drop fell by 2%, from 17% in November to 15% in December. Levels of underemployment remained constant, with 71% of architects stating they were not underemployed in November and December.
There were improvements to all sector forecasts this month. Private housing demonstrated a growth in confidence, with a drop in the number of practices expecting workload to fall (22% in November to 17% in December). Practices expecting workload to grow in this sector rose from 19% in November to 20% in December. Fewer practices expected commercial work levels to drop, falling from 22% in November to 17% in December; 20% of practices expected workload to increase in December, compared to 19% in November. Public sector projects saw modest improvements, with 7% of practices predicting an increase in work, compared to 6% in November; the number expecting workload to drop fell from 37% in November to 35% in December.
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 December 2010, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index is -1 (compared to -15 in November 2010) and the RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index is -9 (compared to -12 in November 2010).
"The RIBA Future Trends Workload Index improved significantly in December 2010, rising to -1 from its November level of -15," said Adrian Dobson, RIBA Director of Practice. "Although practices are, on balance, not yet predicting growth in total workloads, this is the best figure for six months, and suggests that whilst there remains significant uncertainty about growth prospects some optimism is returning. Small practices (1 - 10 staff) are more positive about their workload prospects in the next quarter than larger and medium-sized practices. If the improving confidence trend is to be maintained then we would need to see practices of all sizes exhibiting greater optimism during the first few months of 2011.
A clear geographical divide is emerging, with practices in London (balance figure +13) and the South of England (balance figure +20) now appearing to be quite confident of an improvement in new work prospects, whilst the picture throughout the rest of the United Kingdom is somewhat different, with practices in the other regions and nations predicting that overall workloads will decline in the next quarter.
All four of our sector forecasts have improved this month, but it is only the private housing sector forecast which is predicting an overall increase in workload in the next quarter (balance figure +3). Nevertheless, it is significant that confidence levels in all sectors are moving in a positive direction. Our participating practices now tell us that 61% of their current workload involves work to existing buildings, and this is a trend which will probably continue throughout 2011. There remains evidence of spare capacity in the profession at present, with an inevitable impact on competition for work."