There’s one group of people in this year’s employment and earnings survey that has seen its income rise by 60%. Aziz Mirza digs into the figures

A glance at this year’s earnings survey suggests nothing has changed in the last 12 months. Average earnings are exactly the same as last year, at £42,000. The profile of the profession is also unchanged; 16 per cent are sole principals, 34 per cent are partners and directors, and 36 per cent are salaried architects working in private practices. Each of these figures is the same as last year.

But look beyond the headlines and the survey shows that things have indeed changed – the profession has not only emerged from recession but is looking increasingly buoyant. On the one hand, we see that the trends which emerged last year have continued: reported unemployment is now 1 per cent (compared with 3 per cent three years ago); the number of architects working full-time is steady at 23,000 – a thousand more than three years ago. On the other, there is evidence that the profession is doing more work; the level of under-employment (not having enough work to fill the day) has fallen overall, spectacularly for sole principals.

Previously, setting up as a sole principal was a way for newly unemployed architects to keep going in the recession. Consequently, the ranks of sole principals rose, but the amount of architectural design work around remained low. Sole principals’ levels of under-employment were high: 29 per cent in both 2012 and 2013, 24 per cent last year. This year it has virtually halved to 13 per cent. Overall, under-employment for all architects is now running at 9 per cent. In the last 25 years, it has only been lower than this during the period 2000 to 2008.

Dramatic rise

Recent high levels of under-employment among sole principals were reflected in earnings. Last year, this survey recorded an astonishing figure: one quarter of sole principals earned £15,000 or less. That frighteningly low figure has this year increased by a massive 60 per cent, perhaps the single most dramatic statistic in this year’s survey and compelling evidence, along with the fall in levels of under-employment, that there is convincingly more work around.

In other employment fields, average earnings (with one exception) have increased year on year. That exception is architects working for central government, where the median figure is 9 per cent lower. But this contrasts with their colleagues in local authorities, who are recording a 7 per cent rise.

Principals report a significant rise in their average earnings this year. Sole principals have seen a rise of 9 per cent, and partners and directors of 10 per cent.

As a barometer of activity within the profession, this year’s survey is displaying consistently positive figures. And yet there’s one fact coming that does not reflect this – average earnings for the profession as a whole remain flat. Sure, they’re higher than they were two years ago (and even before the recession, five years ago) but last year’s growth in the headline figure of all architects’ average earnings has not continued.

Static salaries
The reason for the overall picture of ‘no change’ is mainly due to the finding that average salaries for architects working in private practice – that is, employed architects and associates, excluding partners and directors – have not moved. Average earnings for salaried staff, the largest single group of respondents, are static on the year; although the upper quartile figure has increased.

But look for growth and you will find it; salaried private practice architects in ­London and the North have seen average salaries rise by 5 per cent (North) and 7 per cent (London) while elsewhere, average salaries are the same or lower than last year. The London rises are significant given the capital’s importance as an employer: 34 per cent of architects work there. And we know from past economic cycles that London salaries rise first, spreading outwards to the rest of the UK – the well documented ‘ripple effect’.

Looking at the regional variations in average earnings among all architects, not just salaried in private practice, shows a split between England and the rest of the UK. Average earnings have fallen in Scotland (by 8 per cent) and Northern Ireland (also by 8 per cent, although small sample). In Wales/South West, average earnings are broadly unchanged (lower by 1 per cent). By contrast, average earnings have increased in the English regions – by 5 per cent or more in the North, 6 per cent in the South East and just under 5 per cent in London.

London architects record the highest average earnings in the UK – as in every earnings survey we’ve conducted – for all staffing categories within private practice.

The differential between London and the rest of the UK is greatest among principals in partnership (an average of £75,000, which is 36 per cent higher than the UK average) and salaried architects in private practice (average is £45,000 – 15 per cent higher than the UK average). Sole principals in the capital report average earnings of £45,000, a full £10,000 (or 29 per cent) above the UK average.

 

Last year, one quarter of sole principals earned £15,000 or less. That frighteningly low figure has increased by 60 per cent, compelling evidence that there is convincingly more work around

Growing fringe benefits

While average earnings haven’t changed overall since last year, the incidence of fringe benefits have. More architects are receiving contributory pensions, life assurance, private medical insurance and RIBA/Arb subscriptions than last year. Indeed, the number receiving a contributory pension is substantially higher than last year and the highest figure since the mid 1990s. This may in part be due to government reforms. Elsewhere, there appears to have been a small fall in the granting of motoring benefits, with fewer architects receiving a mileage allowance and no upturn in offering company cars.  

This year’s survey figures show that the gap between male and female earnings has widened – to its largest differential since 2009. Overall, the average male architect earns 18 per cent more than the average female (compared with 12 per cent last year). The differential is smaller – although still significant – among salaried architects in private practice, where there is arguably greater similarity in age and experience between male and female architects than in other employment fields. Here, male salaried architects in private practice earn 9 per cent more than their female colleagues, about the same as last year. The structural differences between male and female architects remain: 21 per cent of female architects work part-time, compared with 11 per cent of males; 8 per cent are not working for reasons other than unemployment, compared with just 2 per cent of males. And while most female part-time architects are in their thirties or forties, most male part-timers aged over 60.

On the face of it, little has altered since last year’s survey – average earnings are identical, and the profile of the profession is also unchanged. But trends we saw last year – falling unemployment and under-employment – have consolidated. There is undoubtedly more work around, reducing under-employment. Together with the potential rippling out of salary increases from London, this year’s Earnings Survey paints an increasingly positive picture.

Aziz Mirza is a director of The Fees Bureau and member of the RIBA/ NBS Economic Panel


 

Main findings

£42,000 architects’ average earnings on 1 April 2015
1% unemployed
3% not working for other reasons
0% inflation over the same period

Winners and losers
60% increase in earnings of lowest quartile of sole principals

9% increase in earnings of sole principals overall

10% increase in earnings of partners and directors

9% drop in earnings of architects in central government

7% increase in earnings of architects for local authorities

7% increase in earnings for salaried architects in London

5% increase in earnings for salaried architects in the North

8% drop in earnings for architects in Scotland and Northern Ireland

18% how much more male architects earn than female

Demographic detail

The annual RIBA / The Fees Bureau Architects Employment & Earnings Survey is based on a sample of UK-based RIBA members who were invited by email to complete an online questionnaire in April and May 2015. Around 1,900 architects responded; we are very grateful for their willingness to provide their earnings information and for continuing to support the survey. Together these 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.

The average male architect earns 18 per cent more than the average female – the largest differential since 2009

Looking to the future

After an incredibly busy 2015 and a rapidly increasing number of jobs to fill, the findings of the survey looking at 2014-15 do indeed seem to reflect early signs of an increase in workload. Evidence from recruiting on the ground suggests that next year’s survey is likely to show an increase in average salaries.

As the architectural profession has emerged from recession, the number of advertisements in RIBA Appointments’ online jobs board has increased rapidly. But last year skills shortages began to appear for certain levels particularly in London, and we saw a dramatic shift in enquiries to our recruitment agency.

This highlighted more urgent requirements from studios seeking very specific skills and experience. Architects matching these were in high demand, receiving multiple offers – and the salary increases followed.

The main requirements we are seeing now are from larger practices seeking architects with 3-5 years post Part 3 and strong Revit experience, and from smaller studios working on luxury residential wanting architects with sector specific experience. There are also more roles on the client side. For higher salary candidates, developers have often been a source of well paid positions and that is still very much the case.

With regions like the South West and Wessex witnessing the number of adverts rise by over 110% compared to last year I anticipate they will follow a similar route to London and the extra demand will produce salary increases over the next year.

After several difficult years for the profession, well qualified job seekers finally have a greater choice of opportunities and employers are competing to attract the best staff.

Paul Chappell, manager, RIBA Appointments