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UK architects seeing big growth overseas, says RIBA

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Data from the RIBA’s monthly Future Trends survey paints a rosy picture for architects with workloads growing – particularly abroad, writes Adrian Dobson

Although the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index fell marginally in April, dipping to +29 from +31 in March, the key workload index continues to be on an overall upward trend and remains in very positive territory.

In terms of geographical analysis, all the nations and regions returned positive workload forecasts, with the north of England remaining a strong performer with a balance figure of +43 (see Northern England leads the way on future workload index).

Analysing this month’s data in terms of practice size, large practices (51+ staff) with a balance figure of +71 continue to be the most positive, but small practices (1 – 10 staff) with a balance figure of +28, and medium-sized practices with a balance figure of +24, are also positive about future prospects.

Overseas work now represents 22% of total revenue compared with just 16% in 2013

Over the last few years we have seen a steady increase in the amount of revenue generated by practices from projects based outside the UK. Data from the RIBA Business Benchmarking survey shows that this now represents 22 per cent of total revenue for RIBA chartered practices, compared with just 16 per cent in 2013.

However, this international activity is by and large confined to large practices, for which fees from outside the UK represent 32 per cent of total revenue.

In terms of different work sectors, it was the private housing sector workload forecast that saw the biggest increase this month, rising to +33 in April from +28 in March, and it continues to be this sector that is the main driver of growth in architectural work.

The commercial sector workload forecast decreased to +11 in April, down from +18 in March. We have also received anecdotal evidence from some of our practices of early signs of softening of the market in the commercial sector during the last month.

The public sector workload forecast was little changed this month, standing at -1 in April compared with zero in March. Similarly the community sector workload forecast experienced only a small change, rising to +3 in April from -1 in March.

Each quarter we ask our participating practices about their actual levels of workload compared with those 12 months ago. Workloads in April 2016 were 8 per cent higher than those in April 2015. Workload growth has been strong throughout the last year, and this is the twelfth consecutive quarter in which we have recorded workloads rising, as the value of work in progress begins to climb back towards pre-recession levels.

The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index was unchanged this month, remaining at +10.

Small practices returned a staffing index balance figure of +6 this month, whilst medium-sized practices with a balance figure of +24, and large practices with a balance figure of +71, continue to be more positive about taking on additional staff.

Each quarter we also ask our practices about their actual staffing levels compared with the levels 12 months ago. In April 2016 our practices reported that their permanent staffing levels were 6 per cent higher than 12 months ago. This is the ninth consecutive quarter in which we have recorded an increase in staffing levels, and 2015/16 has been a strong year for employment growth in the profession. However, there still remains some way to go before employment levels will attain their pre-recession peaks.

The private housing sector clearly remains the key driver of growth

Anecdotal commentary received from our participating practices generally remains very positive. The private housing sector clearly remains the key driver of growth, and it is noticeable that this buoyant housing activity is no longer confined to London and the South East but is widespread throughout the country.

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

Read the full copy of the RIBA Future Trends Survey monthly report here

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