A sharp drop in overseas architects coming to the UK is making it harder for practices to recruit top talent, writes Lindsay Urquhart of Bespoke
One of the challenges currently facing the architecture profession in the UK is the shortage of exceptional talent looking for work. Since the Brexit vote last year, our London team has seen a sharp reduction in the number of overseas applicants moving here in search of opportunities. The situation has been exacerbated by booming economies in Australia and New Zealand, which have meant we’ve seen fewer Antipodeans arriving in the capital.
Historically both groups have provided a great resource to large design-focused practices as well as smaller, boutique ones. Certain nationalities were associated with particular skill sets: the education system, for example, tended to mean German applicants had strong technical skills; the Australians were known for having a head start on their UK peers in Revit capability. As many of these people only intended to work in London for a couple of years, they often looked for contract positions rather than permanent ones. Practices such as Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Arup Associates and Grimshaw, who have historically relied upon Bespoke Careers’ contract staff to afford them the flexibility to staff up and down as project needs demanded, will likely find it increasingly difficult to source these people in the future.
There’s no doubt that the draw to relocate to London to work on great projects still exists. However, as those arriving can now typically expect to be offered 10-15 per cent less in basic remuneration than they would in Australia, and as much as 20 per cent less than they would coming from the United States. The financial incentive to relocate to the UK simply isn’t there. When you factor in the decline of the pound and the exchange rate when sending money home or the effect on their savings when they return, it’s no surprise the numbers are declining.
Our recent experience has been that while some practices are acutely aware of the situation, others aren’t. Those under the misconception that the supply of great candidates outweighs demand tend not to react quickly enough to CV applications or when making offers, and as a result they are losing out to their competitors.
Sector wise, the problem appears to be worse for those looking to source people with hospitality, F&B and housing experience. Strong technical project architects with 5-10 years’ experience are most in demand. Our experience is that great candidates at this level are increasingly receiving counter offers from their current employer. Tempted by the prospect of a pay rise and the promise of increased responsibility, some stay put. However, there is significant research to show that only 30 per cent of those who decide to stay put will still be there in six months’ time.
My advice to practices looking to hire in this market is to plan ahead. I realise it isn’t always possible, but dedicate as long a lead time as you can manage to every requirement. The more specific the need, the longer it’ll likely take for you to find the right fit. Whether you’re attempting to manage your recruitment campaign yourself or you’re using a consultancy, be clear in your advertising or briefing about what you can offer, not just what skills you are looking for. In a candidate-short market like this you need to ‘sell’ what’s great about your particular offer, not just list what you want. Ensure you respond to all applications and that you provide genuine and timely feedback to those you’ve seen. Even if they aren’t the right fit for your business right now, they might be in the future or they may know someone who is. Make the interview a great experience – it’s a free marketing opportunity.