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Going Steady?

Tentative signs that things may have stabilised - earnings are slightly up, unemployment is slightly down - but the picture is patchy and no clear trend is evident. Architects are running to stand still. Vince Nacey discusses this year’s research.

The main findings of this year’s RIBA / The Fees Bureau Architects Employment & Earnings Survey are:

• architects’ average earnings on 1st April 2012: £41,100
• change in average earnings 2011 to 2012: rise of 3%
• salaried architects in private practice saw average earnings rise by 1.3%
• Principals in Partnership record a rise of 1.6%
• largest fall is in the earnings of Sole Principals (down 7%) and Private in-house (down 13%)
• one quarter of Sole Principals earn less than £20,000
• largest rise recorded by architects working for Central Government (up 7%)
• per cent unemployed: 3 per cent; per cent not working for other reasons: 3% - unemployment rate has fallen from last year’s 4%

This year’s survey shows some small improvements in architects’ earnings and employment. Last year was the second year in a row in which average earnings fell - the first time earnings had fallen in two consecutive years since the survey started. This year, average earnings have recovered a little, rising by almost 3 per cent. There is also a small upward move in the level of fringe benefits while the unemployment rate has fallen back, also by a small amount. But when the headline rise in average earnings is set against inflation - also 3 per cent - then earnings are standing still. Nevertheless, ‘standstill’ is better than decline which we’ve recorded in the previous two years.

These small changes suggest the employment and earnings of architects has stabilised. But delving into the statistics suggests the profession is split - between sole principals and everyone else.

Sole Principals are having a torrid time. Their earnings have fallen again, in 2012, by another 7 per cent. From a peak of £45,000 in 2008 Sole Principals have seen their average earnings fall nearly every year since to reach just over £32,500 now : 28 per cent lower. In 2008, their earnings were 7 per cent higher than the average for all architects; now, Sole Principals earn 20 per cent less than the average architect. Significantly, a quarter of Sole Principals earn no more than £20,000 (the lower quartile figure). And remember, this is the figure for full-time Sole Principals. It’s not just earnings which have fallen; receipt of benefits is lower too. Now, just 9 per cent of Sole Principals say they pay into a pension, and 15 per cent receive a company car. This compares with 17 and 20 per cent respectively last year.

Part of the reason for lower earnings for Sole Principals is probably that there are more of them; the number of Sole Principal architects is estimated to have grown by as much as 32 per cent since 2010. This might also be part of the reason why unemployment has fallen back; previously unemployed architects may be setting themselves up as new practices but these young firms may not yet be well enough established to find sufficient work and hence income.  Another reason for lower earnings amongst Sole Principals may be related to the rate of under-employment; as many as 29 per cent of Sole Principals say they are currently under-employed. This rate of under-employment is higher than for other staff categories - for example, the under-employment rate amongst salaried architects in private practice is 10 per cent and is even less, 5 per cent, amongst public sector architects. The number of Principals in Partnership who consider themselves to be under-employed is also high, at 22 per cent, and the highest rates of under-employment when measured by practice size is recorded amongst architects working in two person firms, which this year has reached a massive 48 per cent.

Elsewhere in private practice, average earnings are rising - but only just. Salaried architects in private practices - the largest single group of architects (36 per cent of all respondents) record a rise in their average earnings of 1.3 per cent. In the smaller and medium sized practices (with between 3 and 50 staff) earnings are consistently between £37,000 and £38,000; move to the largest practices (over 50 staff) and the average jumps, to £42,000. For Principals in Partnership, the average earnings have also moved up, increasing by 1.6 per cent since 2011 - slightly more than the salaried architects’ increase. Here, the relationship between average earnings and practice size is more exponential; the average for Principals in a 3 to 5 staff practice is £42,000, rising by half to £65,500 in an 11 to 30 person practice, and doubling to £89,500 in a practice with more than 50 staff.

Philip Watson, Design Director, Atkins, added: “The industry needs to encourage and celebrate creativity and innovation, which is why Atkins continues to support the RIBA President’s Medals Student Awards. The best entries this year tackled social, economic and environmental issues head-on, showing real awareness and a refreshing sense of optimism.”

Within the public sector, average salaries have moved up for central government architects but down for those working for local authorities. Consequently, the differential between the two groups has grown (from 16 per cent last year to 23 per cent this) and it is notable that this year architects working in central government are the profession’s top earners, alongside Principals in Partnership.

The architects who work for private in-house departments have seen a particularly large drop in average earnings this year, falling by 13 per cent.

The structural changes within the profession, which started as the recession took hold, continue. While the number of architects not working or unemployed is dramatically higher than before the recession, the number plateaued last year and fell this - from a combined total of 8 per cent not working or unemployed in 2011 to 7 per cent this year.  But what has happened this year is an increase in the numbers working part-time; up from 12 per cent in 2011 to 14 per cent now. The number of architects in full-time employment has fallen by 3 per cent since 2010.

Alongside a fall in full-time activity this year we record a rise in under-employment. The number of architects who say they were under-employed (ie did not have enough work to be fully occupied) rose sharply at the start of the recession, but has actually started to fall back in 2010 and 2011. This year however there has been a rise in the proportion of architects saying they are under-employed, from 15 per cent last year to 18 per cent this.

RIBA Members can see summary statistics from the survey on The Fees Bureau website, at  

A full report on the survey, Architects Earnings includes detailed tables and charts, is also available to purchase from The Fees Bureau, see or telephone 01243 551302.

Conducted in association with The Fees Bureau, the annual RIBA / The Fees Bureau Architects Employment & Earnings Survey is conducted exclusively amongst RIBA members and excludes members based overseas. A sample of members was invited by email to complete an on-line questionnaire form in April and May 2012. Nearly 1,500 architects responded; we are very grateful for these members’ willingness to provide their earnings information and for continuing to support the survey. Together these 1,500 participants represent all areas of architecture: private and public sectors; full-time and part-time; men and women; and all ethnic groups. The profile of the sample by age and region is broadly consistent with previous years.