By all means, 2016 was a busy year for architects as a massive program of residential investment within east coast markets saw multi-unit residential commencements reach record levels and public sector investment in transport projects continued to ramp up.
That has meant good times in the job market. Throughout the year, the consistent message from recruitment agencies has been that of a candidate short market across most major east coast locations (especially in Sydney) and massive demand for those with the right skills.
Going forward, the outlook for 2017 appears to be promising. Residential construction activity is set to remain strong, Australian Construction Industry Forum (ACIF) says, whereas the HIA says non-residential construction will pick up in years going forward.
Not surprisingly, therefore, architects are bullish. Six out of every 10 firms who responded to a recent Management for Design survey say they expect revenue growth in excess of five per cent throughout calendar 2017, with more than three in 10 anticipating growth of above 20 per cent. According to that same survey, seven in 10 firms expect to increase staff numbers whilst six in 10 expect to experience skills shortages and six in 10 expect upward pressure on salaries.
That raises interesting questions about what market conditions will be like, where the best opportunities lie and what strategies candidates and employers can adopt to maximise the outcomes they get from the employment market.
Adam Shapley, senior regional director of Hays Architecture, says vacancy activity will remain strong in east coast markets courtesy of a dynamic market in residential construction, a significant number of urban renewal developments and a good number of developments in aged care, retail and healthcare.
Shapley says occupations in demand include Revit technicians and architects, BIM managers, project leaders and managers, contract administrators, statutory planners (especially in Victoria), land use planners, transport planners and interior designers.
He said employers are looking to increase permanent headcount whilst the use of temporary and contract staff will also increase. Candidates, meanwhile, are looking for roles which offer opportunities for training and development on the job.
Speaking predominately of the Sydney market, meanwhile, Design and Construct principal consultant Scott Cloak expects the market to remain strong in 2017. Cloak says sectors which will remain buoyant include residential, infrastructure related architecture and large public projects.
In terms of commercial work, Cloak says there is a number of developments in the pipeline including the transformation of The Bays precinct, a number of projects in and around Green Square and the redevelopment of land holdings in and around Circular Quay. Work associated with the Sydney Metro, as well, will lead to the demolition of a number of buildings and the construction of new stations, Cloak said. Also, a number of firms are gearing up for work in the aviation space to capitalise on opportunities associated with the second airport at Badgerys Creek.
Outside of Sydney, Cloak said conditions in Perth will remain quiet with the receding of the mining boom whilst those in Canberra may ease after a busy program of urban renewal.
He says a Revit will remain an important skill to have in 2017 whilst demand for interior designers was likely to be strong.
In terms of strategies, Cloak says candidates would be advised to market themselves and their portfolios online, both through their own website and through social media avenues such as LinkedIn.
Employers, too, should look for opportunities to build their own profiles online through means such as discussion forums. Some firms, Cloak said, are taking the initiative of conducting interviews with their own staff and post them online.
Shapley, meanwhile, advises candidates to engage in regular upskilling (particularly in BIM); demonstrate a willingness to learn new technologies such as design to fabrication, augmented reality and virtual reality; maintain awareness of sustainable tools, practices and building materials; and to think of practical examples where they can demonstrate abilities such as creative thing and problem solving during interview processes. Shapley agrees with Cloak on the importance of online profiles and suggests candidates demonstrate their expertise in given areas such as sustainability through means such as blog posts.
Employers, meanwhile, should promote the quality of work which their practice produces, consider providing training to the right candidate in Revit if need be and provide staff with opportunities for on the job learning with regard to sustainability tools.
Whilst Revit skills can be taught where necessary, Shapley cautions that other attributes such as cultural fit cannot.
Cloak says the strength of current market conditions bodes extremely well.
“I’ve been in architecture since 1986 and in recruitment since 2004,” he said. “2016 was the busiest year I have ever seen.
“You just see the number of cranes around the city. The crane count is at record highs.”
Skills in demand
According to Shapley, skills in particular demand are as follows:
- Experienced architects are in high demand in the eastern states and South Australia in response to development projects that require planning and design.
- Technicians and architects with Revit software skills remain highly sought after since most consultancies now use this software. In fact, only 19 per cent of 201 architects we surveyed recently said there are sufficient professionals in the industry with the right level of Revit skills to meet demand both now and in the future.
- BIM managers are also sought to transition a firm's workforce to a new BIM program and create content and templates.
- There is strong demand for architects who have experience leading a project. Employers want candidates who can deliver projects and know how buildings are built.
- Contract architects with experience who are available at short notice are another area of need. These candidates are usually sought to work on a tender or help complete a project stage.
- In certain locations, especially Victoria, town planning remains very busy across metropolitan areas, particularly in the public sector. A high volume of applications are being lodged thanks to current interest rates and aggressive lending strategies by banks, and councils are therefore looking for experienced and available statutory planners. However, there is a shortage of candidates who can the ground running.
- Land use planners are needed too. This is a response to the increasing number of development applications and the need for strategic land use evaluation. Immediately available candidates are in short supply.
- Transport planners are also required. With a focus on improving transport infrastructure, strategic and sustainable transport planners are in greater demand. However, this is a niche skill set and there is a shortage of suitable candidates.
- Finally, there is solid demand for interior designers in response to the increase in work in the retail and commercial sectors and refurbishments in the public sector.