The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has published the results of its Future Trends Survey, the monthly survey of its member’s confidence that can be used as a bellwether for the wider UK construction industry.
The RIBA Future Trends Workload Index fell marginally in August 2013 to +22, down just one balance point from +23 in July 2013. The key workload forecast index therefore remains firmly in positive territory, continuing the trend of positive figures seen since the beginning of 2013.
Actual levels of work in progress continue to be stable on a year-on-year comparison basis; the increased level of optimism is not yet being reflected in actual workloads, but the overall position is of a steady market for architect’ services.
All categories of practices by size, and all the nations and regions in the UK, returned positive workload forecast balance figures in August 2013, suggesting that the sustained improvement in confidence levels is widespread and no longer confined to particular sectors and geographical locations.
All sector forecasts remained in positive territory, with the private housing sector leading the field with a workload balance figure of +22, the public sector a balance figure of +3 and the community sector a balance figure of +2 in August 2013. The workload balance figure for the commercial sector moved further into positive territory, now standing at +9. The commercial sector forecast has shown a steadily improving trend throughout 2013.
RIBA Director of Practice Adrian Dobson said:
“The continuing confidence from our members about future workloads for the commercial sector is a very welcome development; increase in activity in this key sector is central to any overall recovery in workloads towards pre-recessionary levels.”
The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index fell marginally to +3 in August 2013, compared with +5 in July 2013, remaining positive for a fifth consecutive month. The index for temporary staffing increased this month to +12. Overall practices, particularly large practices (50+ staff), seem to becoming increasingly confident about their ability to sustain slightly higher staffing levels going forwards.
Dobson added: “This sense of an improving picture in relation to employment opportunities is reinforced by the fact that our practices report that they are employing 10% more students than they were twelve months ago. The improvement in student employment levels is heartening, given that architecture students were disproportionately impacted by the recession.”
In August 2013, the percentage of our respondents reporting that they had personally been under-employed in the last month was 21%, so the more optimistic viewpoint on prospects for future staffing levels needs to be tempered with the knowledge that still appears to be significant spare capacity within architectural firms at present.
Anecdotal commentary suggests that many practices are beginning to see a pickup in the level of enquiries and the numbers of projects moving forward to contract. However, the overall landscape continues to be very mixed, with on-going reports of intense fee competition and concerns about the complexity and barriers to entry for public sector work.