Future Trends Index shows larger firms are most optimistic about growth, and some may recruit in the new year

Architects’ workloads are starting to become more stable and recruitment is rallying at larger firms, according to the RIBA Future Trends Survey for November 2011.

The RIBA Future Trends Workload Index, which tracks architects’ expectations about work levels, has risen for the second consecutive month. It now stands at -4, up from -7 in October and -10 in September 2011.

As in previous months, practices in London remain more optimistic about future growth in the demand for architects’ services than those in other regions.

Practices with over 51 staff appear increasingly confident that workloads will increase over the next three months, and recorded a balance figure of +33 on the index. Smaller firms with between one and 10 staff were generally more pessimistic, as were medium-sized practices.   

The confidence divide has a direct impact when it comes to recruitment. The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index rose from -8 in October to -4 in November, but large practices returned a positive balance figure, indicating that some firms with more than 51 staff may recruit in the New Year.

Compared with October 2011, slightly fewer – 30% – of those responding to the survey felt that they had personally been under-employed during November.

November saw a slight improvement in the forecast for the public sector, but those for the commercial, community and private housing sectors all edged downwards.

Despite this, the private housing sector remains the most resilient thanks to a relatively solid demand for bespoke residential refurbishment and extension work.

Large firms also reported an improved outlook for work in the commercial sector.

Adrian Dobson, RIBA director of practice, said: “Looking at last month’s survey, bespoke housing, conservation and some specialist health and elderly care sectors seem to be among the better performing sectors.

“But, generally, the situation remains challenging. Practices continue to find it difficult to predict future cash flow and there are signs of a return to high levels of late payment of fees.

“While some practices report increased feasibility work for commercial projects, these are not yet always leading to full commissions, and many clients are still finding it hard to secure bank lending for projects.”