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Future workload index bounces back strongly

AHMM's offices
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The RIBA Future Trends Workload Index rose to +29 in January as practices reported an increase in enquries, says Adrian Dobson

Following a sequence of falls in the second half of 2015, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index bounced back strongly this month, rising to +29 in January 2016 from +15 in December 2015. As we entered the new year confidence seemed to have renewed somewhat, with a number of our practices reporting an increase in enquiries this month.

In terms of geographical analysis, most of the nations and regions in the UK returned increased balance figures in January, with the south of England (balance figure +38) showing particular strength) and only Scotland (balance figure -25) in negative territory.

Analysing this month’s data in terms of practice size, large practices (51+ staff), with a balance figure of +50, remain the most positive about future prospects. Nevertheless, small practices (1-10 staff), with a balance figure of +29, and medium-sized practices (11-50 staff), with a balance figure of +25, are also predicting increases in workload over the next three months.

We have now seen 11 continuous quarters of workload growth

Each quarter we ask our participating practices about the level of their workloads compared with 12 months ago. This quarter our practices indicate that the rate of increase in workloads has slowed, but still remains at a very healthy annual rate of 3 per cent.

The RIBA Future Trends survey has now been running for seven years, and from January 2009 to January 2013 consistently recorded decreases in the overall value of architectural work in progress. However, we have now seen 11 continuous quarters of workload growth, and it is perhaps not surprising that there has been some cooling off in the rate of growth.

Private housing continues to be the primary growth engine for the profession

In terms of different work sectors, nearly all our sector forecasts saw upward movement this month.

The private housing sector workload forecast rose to +30 in January, compared with +20 in December. Private housing continues to be the primary growth engine for the profession.

The commercial sector workload forecast increased to +14 in January from +9 in December. The public sector workload forecast also experienced a healthy uplift, standing at +7 in January compared to +1 in December. The community sector forecast has not yet found positive ground, standing at zero this month.

The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index nudged up this month, rising to +10 in January from +9 in December.

Small practices returned a Staffing Index balance figure of +8 this month, while medium-sized practices, with a balance figure of +31, and large practices, with a balance figure of +25, were more positive about taking on additional staff during the next quarter. Only 2 per cent of practices expect to have fewer staff three months from now. The employment market for salaried architects remains buoyant, with our practices employing 3 per cent more staff than they were in January 2015, but while a small number of practices have reported recruitment difficulties there does not yet appear to be a clear skills shortage.

Commentary received from our participating practices this month suggests a fairly benign economic environment. We continue to receive regular feedback on some of the perennial issues that affect practice efficiency and profitability, including difficulties in ensuring prompt payment of fees, the complexities of public procurement processes, and slow performance by some local planning authorities.

Adrian Dobson is executive director members at the RIBA and the author of 21 Things You Won’t Learn in Architecture School

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