But confidence about future staffing levels is dwindling

Architects’ expectations of future workloads have risen again, with private housing showing signs of renewed confidence for the first time in six months.

Practices are becoming increasingly confident following a rocky patch in the second half of last year which saw workload expectations fall to the lowest level since the start of the covid pandemic.

RIBA’s latest Future Trends survey found more than four in five practices now expect their workloads to either increase or stay the same over the next three months, with just 18% expecting them to decrease.

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Practices have reported confidence about future workloads for the second month running

The March survey’s index rose by three points to +8, with any score above zero indicating that respondents on average are expecting more work rather than less.

It is the second consecutive month of optimism in the sector after last month’s index for February rose above zero for the first time in seven months.

The mood, which has generally been more buoyant for large and medium practices with 10 or more staff, is also now shared by small practices for the first time since June last year. 

The recovery of private housing into positive territory is also significant. The sector had been strongest performing out of all surveyed sectors throughout the pandemic and post-pandemic periods but had crashed in 2022 amid the deteriorating economic climate. 

RIBA’s head of economic research and analysis Adrian Malleson said: “Architects continue to grow in confidence as political turbulence recedes, and the outlook for the UK and the global economy, whilst remaining relatively weak, improves.”

“It is encouraging that the private housing sector, which provides the majority of the work for most smaller practices, expects increased workloads for the first time since June last year.”

However, workloads are still consistently below what they were this time last year with practices reporting an 8% decrease in workloads over the last 12 months.

Expectations of future permanent staffing levels fell again to an index of +1, after falling by two points in the previous month. It means that practices still expect to employ more staff on average over the next three months, but optimism is on a downward trend.

Malleson said continuing stagnation in the economy, high inflation, high interest rates, planning delays, labour shortages and professional indemnity insurance exclusions and costs continue to weigh on practices.