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Architects – state of the market round up shows strong differences

MARKET PULSE: The jobs market for architects is healthy on the east coast, according to the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA). However, salaries are not moving and it’s difficult to find experienced candidates.

Chief executive Jennifer Cunich said the state of architecture jobs is purely a reflection of the economies.

“The east coast is doing well,” she said. “I wouldn’t say Western Australia is booming; it’s travelling OK. With the downturn, it’s much tougher for practices over there.”

While some firms are hiring, others are experiencing difficulties.

“The architects are the canaries in the mine field – quite reflective of what is happening in the economy.”

According to Ms Cunich, competition is driving down salaries.

“It’s a highly competitive market,” she said. “Salaries are not high. There’s real pressure on fees and this has to have a flow-on effect on salaries.”

While the established names can offer a healthier pay packet, there’s pressure on younger architects.

The institute, which represents 12,000 members, surveyed its executive directors around the nation on the state of the market and each state tells a different story.

Strong in the east

The Tasmanian economy is robust, and the job market, particularly in Hobart, reflects this strength. The construction industry currently employs almost 23,000 people in the state and $3.166 billion worth of commercial construction work was underway in June this year. Hobart is the hot spot, although there is a reasonable amount of regional development especially in the tourism sector.

Jobs in the south-east corner of Queensland, particularly Brisbane and the Gold Coast, are healthy due to the current growth in the multi-residential apartment sector and strong government spending on public infrastructure such as health and education. Members are also securing work interstate in Sydney and Melbourne. Regional areas are not so buoyant where the reliance in on local government expenditure or the private sector.

In Victoria many firms are advertising for staff. “It is a very competitive job market out there and very hard to find staff generally,” members said. Melbourne is experiencing growth in medium-density housing. There’s also a lot of work in schools and school extensions in the middle suburbs.

Anecdotally, there’s a lot of activity in the NSW market, with an increase in infrastructure, construction and multi-residential developments. “It’s similar to the Victorian experience,” Ms Cunich said.

South Australia is experiencing recovery in the private sector plus increased public sector expenditure – particularly in infrastructure and education.

In the ACT it appears the job market for all levels of experience and skills sets is strong. There are quite a few offices looking to hire for multiple positions.

It’s a mixed bag in Western Australia. One minute a large practice is laying off workers, while the next a medium practice is taking on multiple new ones. Apartment developments are creating some extra demand. Perth’s CBD has undergone a significant transformation in the past decade and there is a lot of work still to be done. The sinking of the railway line through the city and the Elizabeth Quay waterfront development is providing opportunities.

WA is also seeing the emergence of cooperative outfits where a number of architects will practice under their own name but also belong to a group that markets itself under a single umbrella.

In Northern Territory, the market is really soft. Comments went so far as to label it a “recession”. Although many architects have work, there are no new vacancies.

Finding candidates with the correct skills

Members in Queensland say it’s relatively easy to find staff, with a strong supply of graduates entering the job market each year. There’s a regular flow of jobs for graduates in Victoria, and graduates are generally finding employment within SA as well.

In WA, the work readiness of graduates is a common complaint. To address this issue, Curtin University has established an industry advisory committee to help inform its course content.

“The institute is looking at ways to bridge the gap between academia and practice, such as building on our existing software tutorials that deal with material not covered at university,” the WA chapter of AIA said.

In Tasmania, NT and ACT, practices have problems finding experienced architects. Members in the ACT indicated that it was difficult to source people with the correct skills set, particularly with the balance of right experience and good local knowledge.

In SA the demand for architects with 5 to 10 years’ experience is currently high.

BIM, heritage and sustainability skills in demand

Building Information Modelling (BIM) skills are crucial in the ACT and WA.

The ability to work with 3D BIM software is a must-have skill and there is high demand for residential experience, construction documentation knowledge and an ability to work with Revit, says the ACT chapter.

BIM is mandatory on many public projects in WA and, while there aren’t too many of those at the moment, BIM competence is seen as an advantage.

The University of Western Australia offered a Masters of BIM this year and, from all accounts, it was very popular.

In Victoria, project architects with more than seven years’ experience have been in demand. While in Tasmania, the institute has had a number of enquiries about architects specialising in heritage and sustainability.

In South Australia, experience in education and urban design/infrastructure is an advantage given the current government expenditure in these areas.

Flexible work environments needed to tackle gender imbalance

Despite progress across the nation, the gender balance is still uneven.

There’s positive signs in the NT with the recent election of the its first female AIA chapter president and strong gender balance across the profession. It’s likely the AIA will have female presidents in three states next year.

In SA and ACT, employment opportunities for women are generally good. In ACT there appears to have been an uplift in retention of women in the workplace, although women are still underrepresented at senior practice and management level in both locations.

There is a significant gender bias in the Queensland profession, according to members. While graduates are almost at parity, in the 30+ demographic the numbers swing to being predominantly male.

Males also dominate the senior roles. “This is indicative of the difficulty women face balancing family and career within the profession and a need to shift towards more flexible work environments that are able to retain women in the workforce,” said the Queensland chapter.

In WA, there’s also concern about the female “drop off” rate in the 30-39 age bracket.

“It appears that the high cost of insurance and continuing professional development compliance during time off for pregnancy causes many females to transfer to either non-practising or complete de-registration,” said the WA chapter.

“Many don’t come back because of the onerous re-entry requirements, so they undertake work without the architect tag. We are lobbying the local registration board as a matter of urgency about this.”

Women are well represented in junior positions in Victoria and there are a few female directors and business owners. There is more awareness and discussion of the gender pay gap.

Many women drop out of the industry mid-career to have families. “Practices are more aware of the issues of staff and families and are getting better at accommodating this, but it is a big ship to turn,” says the Victorian chapter.

Anecdotally, Tasmanian female architects still face additional pressures, particularly those juggling parental responsibilities with part-time work.

“Part-time workers dealing with these pressures report that there is still an attitude within the profession that values hours in the office over performance and finds it difficult dealing with part-time work, even though there is evidence that people in these positions are usually very effective contributors,” says the Tasmanian chapter.

Female practitioners acknowledged that Parlour – an online space bringing together research, informed opinion and resources on women, equity and architecture in Australia – is doing a good job in promoting women in the profession, but say more needs to be done within the profession to achieve equity.

Improvement in salaries

There’s positive news in SA with pressure to attract and retain experienced staff assisting in strengthening architects’ salaries. Likewise, in Victoria, architects in the middle to higher experience level are receiving higher salaries. Graduates: not so much.

The Queensland market has experienced a downward pressure on fees which has had the flow-on effect of limiting salary growth. Young architects are generally paid the award, which feedback suggests is not reflective of the long hours and high-pressure environment they experience due to project-cycle deadlines.

NT architect salaries are a closely guarded secret, however, it’s known that income for sole traders is tight.

ACT architect salaries are “improving”, but not sufficiently compared to other industries. Fees for services aren’t experiencing growth, so salaries aren’t where they should be. The prevailing view in Canberra it’s very much below par.

“In Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide salaries seem to be a good $20–40,000 higher on year average. Salaries for young people are very much following the low threshold as set by the architects’ award,” says the ACT chapter.

Anecdotally, salaries are not improving in WA. According to the Hays Salary Guide, WA graduates and newly registered architects are paid on par with the smaller states, but someone with more than five years’ experience can expect a salary more consistent with the Queensland and Victoria.

There has been some improvement in salaries for architects in Tasmania but, on the whole, they remain low and, anecdotally, they are lower for women. “There has been some suggestion that more recent graduates are more open and collegial around salary issues and may be making inroads through this into ensuring better pay and conditions,” says the Tasmanian chapter.

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