What is the architecture job market like?

Fierce competition among architects

Despite falling unemployment, the job market for architects remains difficult. There are jobs in niches, but architects there often compete with other professional groups.



The good numbers are deceiving

Numbers have to be interpreted correctly. For example, the unemployment statistics for architects: Over the past seven years, this has fallen from more than 11,000 unemployed architects to currently below 4,000. To draw the conclusion from this that the labor market for architects is finally picking up again, however, is daring.

The three biggest problems facing architects

"It remains difficult," confirms Tillmann Prinz, Federal Managing Director of the Federal Chamber of Architects (BAK). And there are several reasons for this. Firstly, the construction volume is now on the decline again. So there is already a lower need for skilled workers per se.

Second, the number of architecture students has been increasing again since 2007, in some cases by double digits. The pressure on the labor market from emerging young architects will therefore increase after it has temporarily subsided.

And thirdly, many existing architectural offices are doing more than just making ends meet. An architect who wants to remain anonymous clarifies the situation with drastic words: "In the 80s we earned what we still do today in terms of turnover."

The majority work freelance

According to the Federal Statistical Office, almost every second architect is a freelancer. Architects employed in offices often only get fixed-term contracts or even only work as freelancers there. The financial ceiling is often too thin for the owner of an architectural office to be able to afford high fixed costs for staff. "Only offices that employ more than 15 people are actually economically sound," says Gerhard Zach, the state chairman for Bavaria in the Association of German Architects (VDA) and a member of the "Future at Work" working group in the Bavarian Chamber of Architects.

Architects rarely build houses

In classic fields such as the design of new buildings, architects are currently finding fewer jobs, according to BAK Federal Managing Director Prinz. "Knowledge of building in existing buildings, energy-efficient renovation and the barrier-free design of buildings are in demand."

Overall, in addition to the architect as a networked generalist, increasing specialization can be observed, not least due to the high IT requirements, for example when designing virtual building models. "Often there are niches where there is a need for architects," says Prinz.

Alternative: construction management

Anyone looking for a job in the private construction industry and who also sees their strengths beyond traditional architectural work has good chances as a project manager or site manager. "However, you compete with civil engineers or business economists," says Prinz, "which is why it is especially important for prospective and young architects to acquire appropriate knowledge in the areas of business administration, law and organization."

As a site manager, however, architects would still have opportunities well beyond the 50 if they had a knack for dealing with craftsmen and construction companies. "Experience is required," said Prinz.

Building authorities also need experts

Architects also work in the public sector - for example at building or planning offices, but the number of positions tends to decline in the long term, so that there are opportunities there, but these are not particularly great in terms of the number of jobs. According to the Federal Employment Agency, at the end of 2010 there were around 125,000 architects and civil engineers who were subject to social security contributions (the two professional groups are not shown separately). Their number has remained constant recently, but has decreased by twelve percent compared to the year 2000.

Many self-employed people work in niches

The number of independent architects has remained more or less constant over the past ten years and, according to the Federal Statistical Office, was 51,000 at the end of 2010. There are also 33,000 self-employed civil engineers. According to VDA representative Zach, there are also niches for independent architects in which they can stabilize their economic existence. "These range from expert work to city tours."

Often, however, so many architects pounce on it that the niche is not big enough for everyone. "Examples are energy consultants or experts for small wastewater treatment plants," says Zach. One problem with specializations is that the building regulations and products may be constantly changing, as is the case with fire protection in special buildings. "Anyone who does not have a regular practice - that is, assignments - is quickly left out again."

The salaries are not generous

The difficult labor market situation is also reflected in the salaries of architects. A representative survey among the members of the Chamber of Architects of Baden-W├╝rttemberg, Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia, the results of which were published at the end of 2010, makes this clear: While an architect employed in the commercial sector has an annual salary of 59,000 euros (median: one half is therefore above, the other half below), his colleague in the public sector earns 54,000 euros and his colleague in an architectural or planning office only earns 39,000 euros. These differences persist even with increasing professional experience.

(Michael Vogel, October 2011 / Image: arsdigital)