Record high for private housing sector – RIBA Future Trends May 2021

In May 2021 the overall RIBA Future Trends Workload Index increased by 6 points to a balance figure of +30. This indicates a level of optimism about future workloads among architects not seen since 2016. 40% of practices expect workloads to grow in the coming three months, half (50%) expect them to remain the same, and 10% expect it to decrease. These results indicate that recovery continues.

May’s standout trend was in the private housing sector, which at +42, is the highest Workload Index for this sector since the Future Trends survey began (2009). Almost half (48%) of practices expect workloads to grow in this sector.

The commercial and public sectors are also increasingly positive with the commercial balance figure up 2 points to +9 and the public sector gathering a little momentum, with a rise of 2 points to +5. The community sector remains in negative territory, posting a balance figure of -3, down from -2 the previous month.

In terms of practice size, confidence among small practices (1 – 10 staff) rose with a future workload balance figure of +27, an increase of 7 points. Confidence among large and medium sized practices (11 – 50 and 51+ staff) fell back somewhat, with a balance of +45. Nevertheless, a majority (55%) anticipate increasing workloads.

All regions anticipate increasing workloads over the next three months, with some reporting extremely strong levels of optimism. Practices in Wales & the West posted May’s highest balance figure, an extremely positive +55, with no practices expecting workloads to decrease.

Optimism in London continues to grow, with a balance figure of +22, up from +12 in April.  The South of England’s balance figure also improved further, with a balance figure of +25, up from +19 the previous month.

Anticipation of future workloads has dropped back in the Midlands & East Anglia, though it remains firmly positive; here the balance figure in May is +14, compared to +26 in April.  Similarly, the North of England has returned a strong but somewhat reduced workload balance figure; +37 in May, compared to +44 in April.

In terms of staffing:

  • The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index kept its steady climb and increased by 3 points to +14
  • 19% (up by 4%) of practices expect to employ more permanent staff over the coming three months, whilst 5% expect to employ fewer.  Three-quarters (76%) expect staffing levels to stay the same over the coming 3 months.
  • Personal underemployment fell again and now stands at a to 16%, a level last seen in 2019.

RIBA Head of Economic Research and Analysis, Adrian Malleson, said:

“This month report indicates a strong and sustained recovery of the architect’s market from the lows of 2020. The Private Housing sector posted a record high for future work, and work from the Commercial and Public sectors are also set to continue to grow.  Practices in all regions are positive about the coming months, with notable hotspots in Wales & the West and the North.”

“The RIBA Future Trends survey indicates that the architects profession has so far successfully navigated the unprecedented Covid-19 storm and is in a better position now than many may have anticipated a year ago.”

“The additional comments received from architects aligns with the positive figures. Practices have reported strong levels of enquires, with many of these converting into appointments. Now is a generally busy period, with some new jobs queued until later in the year.”

“While there are high levels of private housing work – from one-off extensions through to larger-scale work for developers – there are also reports of workloads growing in non-residential work.”

“RIBA continues to be on hand, providing support and resources to our members as they navigate these challenging times.”