Falling oil prices are the likely cause of a startling drop in expected workloads north of the border, says Adrian Dobson
The RIBA Future Trends Workload Index dropped significantly last month, falling to +15 in December from +27 in November. This further dip in our headline index confirms that the overall direction of travel over the second half of 2015 has been one of increasing caution.
Nevertheless, the Workload Index remains in firmly positive territory overall, and work in progress for our practices continues to grow, albeit at a more modest pace than in 2014 and the first half of 2015.
The number of new enquiries received by practices typically slows at this time of year
It is also the case that we generally witness a small cyclical reduction in our forecasts in November/December as the number of new enquiries received by practices typically slows at this time of year.
In terms of geographical analysis, nations and regions in the UK returned positive balance figures in December, with the exception of Wales and the West (balance figure -3) and Scotland (balance figure -50).
In Scotland confidence seems to have taken a hit in Aberdeen and the north-east, presumably related to the impact of falling oil prices on the local economy. The south of England was the most optimistic with a balance figure of +30.
Analysing this month’s data in terms of practice size, large practices (51+ staff), with a balance figure of +67, remain the most positive about future prospects. Small practices (1-10 staff), with a balance figure of +16, remain positive, but sentiment among medium-sized practices (11-50 staff) has turned more pessimistic with a balance figure of -7.
In terms of different work sectors, the private housing sector workload forecast fell a little this month, standing at +20 compared with +25 in November. The commercial sector workload forecast also moved down, to +9 in December from +14 in November. The public sector workload forecast, in contrast, nudged back into positive territory, standing at +1, but the community sector forecast fell back below the zero axis with a balance figure of -1.
There is plenty of evidence that Passivhaus increasingly carries added value in the market
The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index was also down this month, falling to +9 from +14 in November. Small practices returned a Staffing Index balance figure of +9 this month, while medium-sized practices were more cautious, with a balance figure of zero. Large practices continue to be the most confident about increasing staff numbers in the next three months, with a balance figure of +50.
Nevertheless, only 5 per cent of practices expect to have fewer staff in the next quarter, and the overall employment market for salaried architects looks to remain pretty robust.
Commentary received from our participating practices this month is generally upbeat in tone, although it is clear that while overall workloads are continuing to grow, the overall environment remains highly competitive.
A number of practices have commented on the growing interest from clients in Passivhaus design standards, and this is no longer limited to domestic projects. There seems to be plenty of evidence that knowledge of Passivhaus increasingly carries added value in the market for architectural services.
Adrian Dobson is executive director members at the RIBA and the author of 21 Things You Won’t Learn in Architecture School