Survey shows growing number of unfilled posts and recruitment bills as high as £700,000

Architects are on the brink of a staffing crisis that will only be addressed if they are added to the Home Office skills shortage list, a national body for the profession has warned.

A survey by the Association of Consultant Architects (ACA), which represents UK architectural practices, has shown that posts are being left unfilled for almost six months on average, and sometimes up to 18 months. More than 80% of the respondents said it took them three months to fill a position, with the average at 10 weeks.

On average, practices spent £130,785 on recruitment last year, with one firm spending £694,000.

Over the next five years, an average of 72 people will leave each firm, it is estimated. As the average size of the practices surveyed was 54, this means many are expecting a 100% turnover in staff by 2013.

Just under a quarter, 24.9%, of staff in architectural firms are from outside the UK and 21.5% are from outside the EU. The survey found that 68.3% of overseas staff have had difficulties with visa renewals.

Among the 21 practices that responded to the survey were Building Design Partnership, Allies and Morrison, RMJM Architects and Kohn Pedersen Fox. Together the 21 firms employ 1,135 people.

It seems incredible, given the difficulties being experienced, that architecture is not already on the skills shortage list

ACA member

Paul Davis, the ACA council officer, said: “For a country trying to be a world hub for design excellence, it doesn’t bode well that architects are finding it hard to find good, permanent staff.”

The ACA launched a campaign last year to get architects included on the Home Office’s list of professions facing a skills shortage. This would make it easier for firms to hire people from abroad.

Discussions with government officials have so far been encouraging, says Davis, but more evidence of the staff shortage is required before they will consider an official application.

One practice, responding to the survey, wrote: “It seems incredible, given the difficulties in recruiting being experienced by every practice we know, that architecture is not already on the skills shortage list.”

The Home Office added quantity surveyors to the list in July 2007 after a long campaign by the RICS.

The survey's findings

  • 21 practices, which together employ 1,135 people, responded to the ACA survey
  • Overall the practices employ 613 employees at Part I and Part II and 305 technicians
  • Each practice employs an average of 13 graduates a year
  • Annual spending on recruitment per firm ranged from £350 to £694,000. The average spend was £130,785
  • Current vacancies at the 21 practices ranged from 1 to 80. The average was 10.9.
  • Posts were vacant from one week to 18 months; the average was 5.5 months
  • About 1,387 people need to be recruited over the next three years. This is 66 per practice
  • The companies estimate there will be a total of 1,165 staff moves in the next five years. This is 55 per practice
  • 81% of those questioned said the skills shortage was significant or very significant.