The first Royal Institute of British Architects' (RIBA) Future Trends Survey results for 2011 presents a mixed picture, with sustained confidence amongst architects working in the private housing sector but predicted reductions in commercial and public project sector workloads.
In the January 2011 results, the private housing sector demonstrated the strongest growth in confidence, with the number of practices expecting workload to grow rising from 20% in December to 28% in January; the number of practices expecting workload to drop in this sector remained constant at 17%. 17% of practices expected a rise in commercial work in January compared to 19% in December; 19% of practices expected workload to drop compared to 20% in December. Public sector projects also saw a modest drop in figures, with 5% of practices predicting an increase in work, compared to 7% in December; the number expecting workload to drop fell from 35% in December to 31% in January.
The number of practices expecting their workload to increase rose from 26% in December to 27% in January, and those practices expecting workloads to drop remained constant at 27%. Employment prospects for salaried architects grew minimally, with 7% of architects expecting an increase in staff in January, compared to 6% in December. The number of practices expecting staff levels to drop remained constant at 15%. Levels of underemployment stayed the same at 71%, for the third month running.
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 January 2011, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index is +1 (compared to -1 in December 2010) and the RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index is -8 (compared to -9 in December 2010).
"The RIBA Future Trends Workload Index grew marginally in January 2011, from a balance figure of -1 in December 2010 to +1 this month. An emerging trend this month is that large practices (50+ staff) now seem to be detecting prospects of a return to growth, having returned a balance figure of +13 in January 2011," said Adrian Dobson, RIBA Director of Practice.
"In terms of geographical analysis, Northern Ireland remains the least optimistic part of the United Kingdom with a balance figure of -40 for the future workload prediction. Confidence in Northern Ireland is being adversely affected by reductions in commercial funding streams, as a result of the economic difficulties in the Republic of Ireland, and a heavy reliance upon the public sector.
The private housing sector forecast has increased from a balance figure of +3 in December 2010 to +12 in January 2011, and this remains the most buoyant of our sector forecasts. Small practices in particular seem reasonably confident that they will be able to continue to achieve new commissions in the bespoke residential market; the private housing sector remains the only one in which practices are on balance predicting an increase in workload over the next quarter.
The proportion of our respondents reporting that they have personally been under-employed in the last month again remains unchanged at 29%, and we still see little evidence of any sustained improvement in the short-term employment prospects for salaried architects."