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Practices downbeat about jobs as hard Brexit looms

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A jobs warning has been sounded after RIBA research found more practices are expecting to reduce their workforces than grow them

The institute polled 239 firms for its July 2019 Future Trends Survey and 12 per cent anticipated a lower number of permanent architectural staff by October.

Just 9 per cent thought their headcount would grow during these three months, leaving an optimism deficit for the first time in almost two years.

RIBA head of economic research and analysis Adrian Malleson said the gloomy results reflected increased speculation that the UK would leave the EU without a deal on 31 October.

‘Commentary from practices paints a concerning picture,’ he said. ‘The looming Brexit deadline continues to cause uncertainty.

‘This month, practices have described the architectural market as both quiet and challenging. Commissions are coming in less frequently, projects are being put on hold, practices are much less confident about the number of permanent staff and there are deep feelings of apprehension and unease about the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.’

Practices with 10 or fewer members of staff were the most pessimistic about headcounts, with larger firms more positive. London, the Midlands and the East of England expected falling numbers, while the North, the South, Wales and the West hoped to grow.

Paul Chappell, director at recruitment firm 9B Careers, said London architects could be tempted to relocate if the market in the capital continued to stagnate.

He said: ‘We are being contacted by a number of studios in areas like Bournemouth, Cambridge, Bristol, Hertfordshire and Surrey … who are looking for architects who are considering moving out of London. Although salaries can be quite a bit lower, so are living costs and an improved work/life balance may tip the balance.’

Chappell added that high-level jobs were harder to come by at the moment, saying: ‘Brexit is having an impact and greatest of these appears to be on the number of senior-level strategic positions being put on hold until the outlook becomes clearer.’

But he urged patience and said the underlying market fundamentals were still strong.

‘There does appear to be a large backlog of potential work building up though and, if things start to move forward, practices will be exceptionally busy.’ 

Joe Bungey, senior architecture consultant at recruiter Mustard Jobs, said the run-up to Brexit was always going to be bumpy.

‘It doesn’t surprise me that as we are now heading towards the climax of the events that started in June 2016; people are getting nervous,’ he said.

But he added that many people remained of the opinion that they had to carry on as normal through the political uncertainty.

‘In the three months of June, July and August, we have seen number of new job briefs taken on rise by 6 per cent, and we have arranged 38 per cent more interviews than we did for the three months before that,’ said Bungey.

Elsewhere in the RIBA Future Trends survey results, one in five practices predicted falling workloads over the next quarter, although a slightly greater number foresaw an increase in fortunes.

London practices were the most negative about workloads, with the North of England the most optimistic.

Growth was expected in housing and public sector work, while commercial and community sectors were expected to shrink.

Outgoing RIBA president Ben Derbyshire last week said the institution had ’consistently raised with government how detrimental [a no-deal Brexit] would be to the industry and the profession’.

He added: ’I encourage all practices to have a prudent and effective business plan; to monitor adequately sensitive lead indicators; and to be ready to move quickly to adjust their business model if necessary. Where appropriate, do look into diversifying into new markets, including overseas.’

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Oh dear, have too many students been lured in to architecture schools this year? An over-supply in the face of reducing demand might suggest a swift change of course? You can’t go wrong with law, economics, medicine, management or accountancy? Science, engineering, and technology such as IT might also be worth a punt?

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