Architects Remain Confident about Workloads: RIBA Future Trends March 2023

by | Apr 24, 2023 | News


Latest monthly report of the business and employment trends affecting the profession shows architects’ outlook for future work continuing to improve.

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. 

Architects’ outlook for future work continues to improve. The private housing sector expects its workload to increase for the first time in six months, as do small practices for the first time in nine months, and all but one region feels the same. Despite this improvement, current workloads remain consistently down on a year ago, with practices, on average, reporting an 8% decrease in workload levels over the last 12 months. 

In March 2023, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index rose by 3 points to +8. The RIBA Future Trends Permanent Staffing Index remains positive at a modest +1. 

Over the next three months, 27% of practices expect workloads to increase, 18% expect them to decrease, and 55% expect them to stay the same.  

For the first time since June 2022, small practices (1-10 staff) expect workloads to increase, rising 7 points to +7. Medium (11+ staff) and large (50+ staff) practices remain firmly optimistic, with a combined figure of +20. 

The profession’s rising optimism is felt across regions. Only the Midlands & East Anglia expects workloads to diminish, falling 13 points to -5. All other regions have an improved and positive outlook. London, which was the most pessimistic region towards the end of 2022, rose 9 points to +7 after a dip in confidence in January and February. The outlook of the North of England (+18), Wales & the West (+14), and the South of England (+8) all improved. 

All monitored work sectors have an improved workload outlook. After six months of pessimism, the private housing (+1) and commercial sectors (0) left negative territory. The outlook for the public sector (-7) rose 4 points but is now in its 12th negative month. The community sector (-8) rose by 1 point. 

In terms of staffing: 

The RIBA Future Trends Permanent Staffing Index remains positive, falling by 2 points to +1.  

  • 9% of practices expect to employ fewer permanent staff over the coming three months, 11% expect to employ more, and 80% expect no change.  
  • Medium and large practices (+23 combined Staffing Index) remain strongly positive about recruitment. 
  • Small practices (-3) anticipate decreasing staffing numbers.  
  • Staffing outlook improved in the capital but has fallen slightly in all other regions. London (+4) rose 6 points to return to positive territory. Practices in Wales & The West (+5) continue to expect increased staff numbers. The North of England (0) and the South of England (0) remain neutral, and the Midlands & East Anglia (-7) fell into negative territory. 
  • The Temporary Staffing Index (-3) fell by 1 point.  
  • Levels of personal underemployment held steady at 18%. 

RIBA Head of Economic Research and Analysis Adrian Malleson said:   

“Architects continue to grow in confidence as political turbulence recedes, and the outlook for the UK and the global economy, whilst remaining relatively weak, improves.  

It is encouraging that the private housing sector, which provides the majority of the work for most smaller practices, expects increased workloads for the first time since June last year.  

However, it’s not all rosy. A stagnant economy, high inflation, high interest rates, lowered business investment, and an ongoing cost of living crisis mean architects’ confidence is unlikely to resurge to pre-Brexit highs. Actual workloads remain below levels this time last year. RIBA members continue to report impediments including planning delays, Professional Indemnity Insurance exclusions and costs, labour shortages, increased material costs, and interest rate increases. 

On the plus side, the rate of product cost inflation increases is abating, and construction material availability issues have fallen back. There is some workload uptick in high-end domestic work and the health and entertainment sectors. Practices also caution that competing for work by fee-cutting is unsustainable. 

We will continue to report our findings to the Government and work with other built environment bodies to monitor trends.”