A challenging context for public sector and infrastructure work is offset by a buoyant commercial and life sciences sector, writes Jimmy Bent
As we enter a New Year, the collective sentiment is to look forward, make plans and think about the future, me included. But as we do, it is hard to not reflect on the past year.
New Year messages on my social media feed were filled with industry peers reflecting on the past year. The consensus is that it was a mixed bag with many firms facing challenges. What is encouraging is that most wrapped up their reviews of 2023 with optimism about the year ahead. This sentiment is being echoed by the companies we’ve been speaking to over the past few weeks.
While new vacancies took a predictable dip towards the end of December, we were still busy right up until the Christmas break. Several companies we work with received the green light on projects in December, when they expected to wait out until January. And if you take an optimistic view of the news, there are positives to be found.
It’s been reported that the downward slump in the construction industry eased off in December. This coupled with improving interest rates, points towards a more favourable economic environment for the whole industry.
We expect commercial and health/life sciences to remain steady. Workplace is busy as the return-to-the-office trend continues, however there are signs that this could be reaching its peak. Infrastructure and public sector will likely remain unsettled especially as there is the possibility of a general election this year.
Another clear trend is that as more and more Middle Eastern projects are announced, an increasing number of UK firms are making a commercial decision to take on work in the region.
‘Cautious optimism’ seems to be the phrase du jour and I’ll take that!
Every year at this time, we publish the Bespoke Careers Global Salary and Benefits Guide, and this year is our most comprehensive to date. The benefits section is of particular interest as companies become increasingly creative in crafting attractive offer packages, recognising that securing top talent often requires more than just monetary incentives. Benefits can also be an economical way of beefing up job offers.
Interestingly, in comparison with our six other offices across the USA and Australia, London’s architecture salaries showed the biggest jump year on year with an average increase of 5%, while the other locations only saw a nominal increase. While this uplift doesn’t have a direct correlation to the market, it is still a positive step forward.
Internationally, it’s fair to say that the UK outlook is the most optimistic. In Australia, after years of a booming economy, there has been a slowing in the last six months, more so in Sydney than Melbourne. Brisbane is expected to rebound quickly in 2024 as companies look to make the most of the buoyant Queensland market where there is plenty of government investment. In the US, there has been a slight contraction, with a tougher market in California and caution in New York – only Texas has remained steady.
With the New Year comes new budgets and new plans. Our team dealing with strategic hires are particularly busy straight off the bat, as firms look to bolster their leadership in preparation for the year ahead. Unsurprisingly, work winning skills are high up the priority list when looking at potential candidates.
There has also been a noticeable move towards practices rebuilding internal support teams; bringing functions such as finance, HR, and graphics back in-house after outsourcing this over the past few years to save costs or relying on studio managers to do it all. In my experience, this shift reflects a positive outlook.
Undoubtedly, the UK economy has weathered significant challenges in recent years, but in the face of this our industry continues to be incredibly resilient. It’s still early days but there are many positive indicators out there. ‘Cautious optimism’ seems to be the phrase du jour and I’ll take that!
Jimmy Bent is managing director of Bespoke Careers and can be contacted at Jimmy@bespokecareers.com