The company made its recommendations after a recent survey of 134 architectural practices found that up to 40% of practitioners had been made redundant over the past four years, with many of the larger firms struggling to sustain business.
Hays has been recruiting in architecture in Northern Ireland since 1996 and has filled hundreds of architectural roles for a range of practices across the country. Key findings of the survey, carried out in the second quarter of this year, include:
- Almost one fifth of practices surveyed made more than 60% of their staff redundant in the last four years
- 30% of practices have made than 40% of their total staff redundant
- 6% of Northern Irish firms have made over 80% of their staff redundant in the four-year period.
However, on the upside 11 of the 134 practices surveyed have grown in this period, of which six are newly established. And 30% of practices surveyed overall confirmed that they intended to engage in recruitment drives over the coming 24 months.
According to John Moore, Director at Hays in Northern Ireland: “The aim of this report was to identify the scale of the challenge faced by practices and to understand how we can help businesses to plan ahead and rebuild.
“Previous research has already shown the increase in economic activity that can be achieved with only a small amount of investment in the construction industry. Despite this, there is a lack of investment at a strategic level and the effects of this have had a profound effect on the architectural sector. With practices downsizing and ever greater numbers of architects competing for fewer positions, there is unprecedented pressure on the industry.”
In terms of coping strategies put in place by firms to ameliorate the effects of the downturn, almost 65% have been forced to cut costs, but one in eight practices said that they had invested in more aggressive marketing in order to become more competitive.
Moore added: “Often, cost savings achieved in the short term eventually leak away. Ad hoc spending cuts can damage corporate reputation, infrastructure and demoralise employees, leaving companies struggling long after the recession ends. For cost reduction measures to stick, companies must look to the long-term, clarify the cost drivers of the business and use that knowledge to create a culture of cost consciousness, in both bad times and good.”
Hays has made four key recommendations which it believes will assist the sector in rebuilding the architecture industry:
- Investment in infrastructure and public works: spearheaded by leading Northern Irish architects and focusing on projects that invest in the national interest, this would mean a rapid return to employment for the many currently unemployed in this sector
- An enhanced training programme: focusing on developing broader business acumen and skills this could assist the profession in resisting future downturns
- Retaining and attracting new talent into the industry: the staggering loss of roles in the industry could deter young school leavers from pursuing careers in the industry. To avoid a skills gap developing, a programme to campaign and promote the role and profession of the architect would go a long way to ensuring avoiding a skills gap emerging.
- A national think-tank on architecture: fed and supported by a similar regional programme of engagement with local government, this could create the ideas and stimuli for much-needed national and regional development.
Moore commented: “Many employers we spoke to referred to the traumatic and emotional experience of having to downsize so rapidly. This reflects not only the sheer numbers involved, but also the nature of the profession: most practices are close-knit and foster a co-operative and supportive working environment. Enforced redundancies in this ‘community’ can be very difficult for decision makers and ‘survivors’ to deal with. It is vitally important that measures are quickly taken to address the situation and create a sustainable future one of our most prestigious, learned professions.”
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