How Can Architects Capitalise on Jobs Rebound?

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Thursday, July 9th, 2015
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Increased Demand for Architectural Services
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It might not be a boom, but architects in Australia are experiencing a significant recovery in their employment prospects as demand for their services rises amid growing levels of activity in building construction and infrastructure projects.

Until recently, labour market conditions within the profession had been subdued as a period of low building activity drove an environment in which employers outside of a few specific areas had ample levels of candidate choice and increases in remuneration were severely constrained.

Now, however, much of that situation appears to be reversing amid rising levels of building activity and opportunities in civil infrastructure projects. Employment websites such as Seek, for example, are reporting a rebound in advertisements across areas such as illustration and animation, general architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, urban design and planning and architectural drafting, with eastern states in the hot seat as apartment markets boom across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and infrastructure investment ramps up in Sydney and New South Wales.

Moreover, going forward, recruiters expect conditions in Victoria and New South Wales to remain strong for the remainder of 2015 and into 2016 in Victoria and New South Wales and for demand to improve in Queensland. They do, however, expect conditions to remain subdued in South Australia and Tasmania.

“I am hesitant to use the word ‘boom’ as it is sporadic depending on the location,” said Adam Shapley, senior regional director at recruiting outfit Hays Architecture. “As a whole though, we have seen a notable increase in all locations led by Sydney in particular, as well as Melbourne and Perth, and we saw Brisbane and Adelaide pick up in the last quarter of the financial year as well.”

“In Sydney specifically, there is a huge demand for candidates right now thanks to the large number of DAs that are being processed and major infrastructure projects that are underway. The residential market is also very busy too and looks set to continue this way for some time.”

Randstad employment market analyst Steve Shepherd FRCSA agrees that demand at an aggregate level is strong but stresses conditions vary across geographic regions.

“I think you have to look at each state individually as while demand in general has been strong, it varies from state to state,” he said. “NSW has been a boom state without question. Victoria has shown strong growth after a few jitters around the election period last year. SA and TAS have been subdued and demand in WA is steady and QLD is showing signs of recovery.”

“So demand is high nationally because of the demand out of the two largest states where the property markets are performing stronger supported by record low interest rates.”

In light of the improving conditions, many architects are thinking about how they can best capitalise on the improving conditions. In this regard, commentators like Shepherd and Shapley say a number of aspects are crucial.

In terms of technical skill and ability, increasing adoption of technologies such as Building Information Modeling is fuelling growing demand for those comfortable in working with programs such as Revit. More broadly, it is imperative to conduct appropriate levels of research with regard to the particular employer in question. Architects should be able to show how they can help their prospective new employer to achieve what they want to achieve, demonstrating that using clear examples from their past experience.

Just as important are profiles on social media. These should highlight not only skills, experience and critical strengths but also ideally a portfolio of projects, and should be optimised using keywords for search engine optimisation purposes. Shepard says the importance of LinkedIn cannot be understated, and that with companies nowadays typically conducting social media searches prior to advertising, those without a strong online presence now stand ‘at the end of the line’ when it comes to new positions.

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Finally, not surprisingly, the tighter labour market is placing upward pressure on salaries and personnel costs as candidates especially in stronger markets of New South Wales and Victoria become increasingly choosy, especially about the roles they accept and the terms on which they will move from their current position.

“We see wage pressure across all roles predominantly in NSW and Victoria driven by demand,” Shepherd said. “Job seekers have potentially multiple job offers and this has placed them in the bargaining seat. So we are seeing job seekers looking for higher money and companies offering higher ‘counter offers’ to try and retain staff who resign. We are all so seeing companies willing to offer attractive salaries to try and lure people away from their current employers.”

“Companies have the work but need the staff, so are prepared to pay more as they need them to get the job done.”

Shapley, meanwhile, says the impetus for large remuneration increases has been tempered to an extent by a continuation of restraint on fees as firms battle in what remains a competitive environment in which to secure work on significant projects.

“In saying that there are specific skill sets which are in demand and people with these skills often receive multiple offers, which gives them leverage to negotiate a higher salary,” he said. “For example there is a shortage of Revit proficient architects and drafters, and so these professionals may be able to negotiate a marginally higher salary than AutoCAD candidates.”

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Below is a summary of how Hays views the current state of the market according to individual cities:

Brisbane: Brisbane is looking really positive with good growth and confidence in the last quarter of the financial year. There is still a lot to come in the next six to 12 months and both contract and permanent jobs are available. Activity is mostly being driven by multi-residential and office fit-out work.

Melbourne: Melbourne has been on the up this year and this is expected to continue. There has been increased activity in the residential market thanks to major multi-residential projects as well as single dwelling projects. Revit experience is still in high demand too.

Sydney: Sydney is leading the way in terms of market activity and major projects are being delivered. Again the housing market is thriving.

Perth: Perth has been an active market this year. There has been an increase in requirements for Revit drafters to work on large projects, design architects to get the front end work out the door and mid-level architects for succession planning in firms. While some studios are making redundancies, others are very busy and are keeping everyone employed.

Adelaide: Adelaide has been quieter this year as the Royal Adelaide Hospital came to completion last year. There is an increase now, mainly in urban design and landscape architecture, with architects and drafters slowly following suit. Many architects have left the state in search of work elsewhere. The residential sector is the most active, with a flurry of high rise projects keeping current teams busy.

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