The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has published the latest Future Trends survey results, a monthly report of the business and employment trends affecting the architects’ profession.
The new year began with some trepidation about workload, but a positive shift in the RIBA Future Trends Permanent Staffing Index indicates that architects were feeling the most optimistic about employing and retaining staff since May 2022.
The first RIBA Future Trends Workload Index is negative (-11) and has deteriorated slightly but has recovered from the low of late Autumn 2022. Over the next three months, 18% of practices expect workloads to increase, 28% expect them to decrease, and 54% expect them to stay the same.
The outlook among small practices (1-10 staff) remains negative (-14), down from -11 last month. In contrast, medium and large practices (11+ staff) maintain a positive outlook, with a combined balance figure of +7 in January, albeit down from +13 in December.
Practices in all regions reported a subdued outlook for future work. Having ended 2022 with optimism, London fell back to -5. Both the North of England (-20) and the South of England (-22) fell, while the Midlands & East Anglia (-13) improved slightly, and Wales and the West (0) recovered to be neutral.
All monitored work sectors remained negative, but two sectors have improved. The private housing sector improved this month, rising 5 points to post a balance figure of -10. The public sector (-9) rose one point, whilst the commercial sector (-7) fell by 3 points, and the community sector (-13) fell the most, by 9 points.
In terms of staffing:
The RIBA Future Trends Permanent Staffing Index has shifted firmly into positive territory this month, rising 8 points to +5, the highest since May 2022.
- 9% of practices expect to employ fewer permanent staff over the coming three months, 14% expect to employ more, and 77% expect no change.
- Medium and large practices are strikingly positive about recruiting staff as the year begins, with a combined Index figure of +23.
- Small practices also anticipate growing staffing numbers (+2).
- Staffing outlook continued to improve in most regions. After five months of pessimism, London rose to +12. Wales & the West (+13) remained positive, and the North of England (0) recovered to expect staffing to hold steady. The South of England (-2) dipped into negative territory, and the Midlands & East Anglia (-4) continued, on balance, to expect permanent staffing levels to fall. has seen the outlook for permanent staff deteriorate this month.
- The Temporary Staffing Index fell three points to -6, perhaps reflecting a preference for securing talent long-term.
- Levels of personal underemployment have risen slightly this month, with 20% reporting personal underemployment, compared to 18% in December.
RIBA Head of Economic Research and Analysis Adrian Malleson said:
“Our figures show 2023 beginning with some trepidation as architects continue to expect their workloads to fall. However, the uptick in the RIBA Staffing Index suggests that practices are looking beyond the three-month horizon of the Workload Index to see brighter times ahead. Although recruitment remains challenging, practices are getting themselves ready for the eventual upturn by seeking talent now.
RIBA members continue to report external factors suppressing their workload – planning delays, Professional Indemnity Insurance exclusions, labour shortages, and high construction product costs.
Practices report economic conditions directly affecting current and future workloads, with private clients putting domestic projects on hold due to concerns about their job security, increases in interest rates making previously feasible projects no longer so, and client payment delays hitting cash flow.
As the pandemic-induced ‘race for space’ loses momentum, small practices maintain a negative outlook about future workload. But the picture is not uniformly downbeat – stronger areas of work include high-end residential and retrofit work, and large and medium-sized practices maintain a positive outlook.
Last month, we said we expected 2023 to be a year that would challenge the profession. While a UK recession remains on the cards for much of the year, it is likely to be shallow, and we see practices showing short term resilience, while planning for long term stability and growth. We will continue to report our findings to the Government and work with other built environment bodies to monitor trends.”