Market Update: Melbourne Architecture & Interior Design, Autumn 2021

25th March 2021 / Market Updates
Bruce Whetters – Senior Partner – Melbourne
Photo: Mitchell Luo

Post lock down action! – that’s the only way we can describe the “bounce” we have seen, starting tentatively in December, building through January, with momentum continuing into March strongly here at BT&P Melbourne.

At the time of writing, we are a year on from when the pandemic first hit, sending us all home in a hurry. With pent up demand from that period, many studios are building numbers again with a range of projects taking shape. This positive outlook seems set to stay for the foreseeable future from a recruitment perspective, although it’s fair to say that not all studios have returned to pre COVID activity levels, with some still on reduced hours and looking for new projects to kick in.

As we had mentioned in earlier updates, the slowdown around the pandemic has had different impacts on the market compared to previous financially driven downturns. This difference can be seen as the market regains ground. Primarily, this is in the form of activity spread widely across a range of project types and scales, rather than just 1 or 2 sectors emerging first, as is more common in financial downturns. Certainly government funded projects are prevalent, however this is nicely balanced with private sector projects, indicating the recovery is not just based on government spending alone.

Where the work is at… and the demand is growing.

Photo: Angela Lo

A quick look at projects we have recruited on since December in both Architecture and Interiors covers education, health, social and disabled housing, high end (owner occupied) residential in the $5 – $25M scale, mid to larger apartments, volume residential, hotels, community, and municipal projects (sports / recreation /theatres / libraries), aged care, defence, rail and transport, tertiary education, research and laboratories, workplace and retail interiors along with landscape and urban design projects.

Photo: Sean Pollock

Roles have been spread across design, delivery and documentation and site stages, both permanent and contract, and have ranged from Graduate levels right through to senior strategic engagements. The strategic roles have even extended into Partner level, aiming at those with an existing client base or capacity to bring in new projects.

We have also filled a great range of broader studio roles spanning studio managers, PA’s, EA’s, Reception, Document Controllers and Submission Managers as clients broaden their mix of staff.

Photo: Austin Distel

Getting back into the office – how’s that looking?

As we emerge from work from home mode, we are finding studios have different approaches with their return to work plans. Some are aiming to get teams back into the office environment as fully and quickly as possible, others still maintaining a cautious approach with only 20 – 30% of staff back at any time, and others looking toward a more permanent “hybrid” arrangement.

Some practices are expecting difficult conversations with staff as there will be varies expectations between business needs and what staff would ideally like.

Photo: Timon Studler

More broadly, the lock down has left changes in the way we live and work, and it is also exerting forces on projects to a degree.

Commercial workplaces of the future are still being hypothesised, some forward thinking retailers are re defining the retail experience for customers, high end holiday homes are increasingly being designed as we still can’t holiday overseas, student housing and universities have been impacted with less overseas students, the resurgence of industrial and warehousing projects as the lockdown sped up the “normalisation” of online retailing, concerns around delayed delivery dates of sites impacted by restrictions and potential legal outcomes as a result, restaurants, hospitality and sporting venues needing to convert to accommodate social distancing – so many areas that have been impacted, and many of our clients are excited to be a part of the conceptualisation of how these changes can be embraced positively.

The vaccine rollout is highly anticipated for a return to normal life, work and travel, although we expect a lot of these changes to be a part of that “new normal”.

Photo: Marco Lopez

Salaries, JobKeeper and all things money…

Photo: Pawan Kawan

Rates and salaries are also a hot topic of conversation at the moment, both for employers, new job seekers and incumbent employees. Even though there is increased project activity, many clients are still reporting stiff competition and tight project fees on the projects they have won.

Additionally, cash flow needs to be managed as projects have started quickly with fees yet to fully flow. On the flip side, whilst many coming into new roles have realistic salary expectations, others are pushing for large increases, and this is an area that will need to be managed as we go into the middle of the year when salary reviews occur. A majority of offices deferred salary reviews during 2020 out of necessity, meaning for some there have been no increases for 2 years.

We also anticipate Modern Awards will increase in July, having been deferred last year into November. Further, whilst not yet passed in Parliament, the Superannuation increase to 10% may come into effect in July.

It is not yet known what impact the end of JobKeeper will have on the design industry at the end of March, with many saying it’s not a problem at all, but there is also a small number who have chosen not to comment.

So going forward, widespread recruitment activity, whilst still varying from studio to studio, and strong employment opportunities, but as always, some management challenges ahead that will need to be clearly communicated to staff as the year goes on.

Let the ArchiSoccer spirit continue

Photo: ArchiSoccer

BT&P Melbourne has been proud to sponsor the ArchiSoccer league again this year. We congratulate ArchiSoccer Gurus Adrian and Darian for managing to firstly get the finals played for the previous season and secondly to get a competition up and running during COVID restrictions – no mean feat.

Congratulations to all who have played this year, with finals now underway, and the Grand Final scheduled for 1st April. As always, there is big excitement around who will make it to the Grand Finals!

And finally…

We were thrilled in January to welcome back Elisa Dowdle to the BT&P Melbourne team after a few years living overseas. Many of you would remember Elisa’s wealth of knowledge, experience and enthusiasm, and her return is a great addition to the team as we continue to grow.

Looking forward, some really positive things emerging for this year, and potentially a few bumps along the way for some.

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