Architects continue to enjoy relatively strong employment conditions for now despite a downturn in the residential market.

On some indicators, demand for architects appears to be levelling off. Over the three months to June, the number of jobs advertised in architecture and design on the Seek jobs web site contracted by one per cent, according to data provided by the site.

Other data, however, is more positive. Between June 2017 and June this year, data from the Department of Jobs and Small Business indicates that the number of employment vacancies for architects and landscape architects increased from 748 to 786. Over that same period, vacancies for interior designers edged up from 416 to 434 whilst those for urban planners jumped from 256 to 325.

Even if the market has levelled off, it has done so at a buoyant level.  Those vacancy numbers recorded in June, for example, are well above levels seen four years ago (June 2014) of 532 for architects and landscape architects, 270 vacancies for interior architects and 156 for urban planners.

As for the levelling off implied by the Seek data, the comparison period for this data (June quarter 2017) represented buoyant conditions within the architecture market as the number of residential projects coming through was still strong. That advertisements have held their ground since then is arguably an indicator of strength rather than weakness.

Furthermore, there are some disciplines for which hiring activity is still on the rise. Compared with the corresponding period in 2017, June quarter job ads increased by nine, seven and six per cent for interior design, landscape architecture and industrial design respectively.

This relatively robust situation has been driven by strong activity in building work. At $28.2 billion (ABS data) the value of building work done in the March quarter of this year was up 28 per cent compared with levels seen in the same quarter six years earlier.

Amid the relatively strong conditions, architects are pulling in tidy increases in pay. Compared with the previous period to May 2017, average salaries across all architectural job categories over the 12 months to May this year were up three per cent, according to Seek. Whilst this is not a blowout, it is a good outcome in light of subdued annual wage and salary growth at two per cent across the economy as a whole.

Going forward, the picture is mixed. Given their position at the front end of the building cycle, architects are the first to feel the slowdown in the residential sector. Judging by approval data, a modest slowdown in the number of multi-residential projects coming through took hold around the early part of last year.

Unlike engineers and some construction contractors, as well, architects are less involved in infrastructure and have less capacity to benefit from the massive pipeline of civil work. That said, many will be able to capitalise on buildings such as stations, airports and office, industrial and retail development which spins off from public asset investment.

Despite the headlines, moreover, project flow even within the multi-residential sector remains strong. At 8,135 (seasonally adjusted), the number of multi-residential projects approved for construction in the month of June was still above levels seen before the commencement of the recent boom. Furthermore, forecasts by Australian Construction Industry Forum (ACIF) indicate that multi-residential dwelling completions will bottom out at 70,000 in 2019/20 (from a peak of 104,000 in 2016/17).

Compared with historic levels, that still represents respectable levels of activity. At the same time, ACIF and others say the detached home segment of the market will hold at around current strong levels for at least several years. This means there will at least be reasonable levels of work for architects in residential for some time.

At the same time, a stronger project flow is emerging in commercial and public buildings. This includes offices, hotels, warehouse and industrial facilities, retirement/aged care homes and in retail and shopping centres.

Joel Donnelly, regional director at recruitment specialist Michael Page, said demand for architects remained strong notwithstanding the pull-back in multi-residential investment. A number of architectural houses, he said, are winning projects in overseas markets such as China. As well, there is still good demand for local projects.

“There is still a lot of demand for Australian design,” Donnelly said.

“Good architects are still getting picked up.”

Speaking from a remuneration perspective, Rita Avdiev, remuneration consultant and managing director of remuneration services firm The Avdiev Group, said salary rises throughout the design and construction sector have been running ahead of those within the broader economy for most of the past five years. Furthermore, whilst increases throughout the AEC sector overall had generally been running at around three per cent, skilled people in some niche areas have been bringing in larger rises still.

That said, Avdiev – who started as an architect herself before branching out – expresses frustration that architects remain at the bottom of the pay scale in terms of construction professionals. Those figures are borne out in the Seek data. Over the 12 months to May, average salaries for architecture roles advertised on the web site came in at $83,055. Those for construction (professionals) and engineering came in at $109,325 and $105,810 respectively.

As for current trends, Avdiev says the architecture market is in a state of flux as residential sales come off the boil and the number of unit and apartment projects eases.

As many of these projects move through the construction phase, she says one area of opportunity for architects involves moving beyond design and into the construction space. Builders, she said, were taking on architects in areas such as project management, contract administration and site management

Hotspots of Demand

In the latest edition of its Jobs Report, recruitment firm Hays says it hotspots of demand are evident across several areas, in particular:

  • REVIT architects, interior designers and landscape architects are needed as firms continue to switch to REVIT software
  • REVIT technicians are also needed. As this somewhat repetitive role is often seen as a stepping stone to a more senior position, there is a constant need for candidates to replace departing staff.
  • Architects with aged care experience are needed amid demand associated with the aging population
  • Project lead architects are needed as the extensive experience required for this work limits the pool of suitable candidates
  • Design architects are sought for work on the initial concept design stage
  • Interior designers are needed. Candidates who can lead projects autonomously are in shortfall.
  • Landscape designers are also required as new landscape projects follow years of low activity
  • ArchiCAD draftspersons are also sought, particularly by project home builders.