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Bespoke Careers

24 February 2021

24 February 2021

Five mintues with Lindsay Urquhart

David Taylor catches up with Bespoke Careers CEO Lindsay Urquhart to get the lowdown on architectural recruitment patterns across the world, making a new life in Australia, and what exactly got smashed in her Sydney house move...

David Taylor: Hi Lindsay!

Lindsay Urquhart: Hi!

DT: So, before we talk about recruitment and the market, you have just moved into a new house, I think, Lindsay. How does that experience compare to the British removals experience, and how is Sydney at the moment?

LU: Well, I haven't actually moved for probably about 10 years in the UK so I can't really remember, but all things considered it was pretty smooth. Only three breakages and we had everything delivered from London to Sydney and sitting in storage for about three months, so it went pretty well, all things considered.

Sydney is pretty blustery tonight, but it has been lovely. It seems strange being in the height of summer in January and December compared to what we're used to, but life here is pretty normal compared to what our experience was of being in London when we left in September. There's been a couple of blips, but we have not had any cases in New South Wales for over a month. They have a really good track and trace system, so everywhere you go in you clock in, you clock out, and any outbreak they are really on it and they lock down really quickly. 

DT: So it feels fairly normal then, does it, in your day-to-day existence? You can go out to the pubs etc, bars rather, and restaurants? Do you wear masks? What's the situation?

LU: Over Christmas, people were wearing masks, but now it's only if you're on public transport or you take an Uber then you do. But otherwise, not really no. Not in shops – if you’re going inside to the doctors or dentist, they still do but otherwise it's not mandatory. People still do, but it's rarer for people to be wearing them than not.

DT:  So, tell me about recruitment in Australia versus your experience around the world in your various offices. What's the situation? How is the market holding up? Are you seeing any correlations between Covid and cases and recruitment, for example?

LU: Yeah, absolutely. So we've got a couple of offices in the States and a couple in Australia, and obviously in London. Australia wasn't hit as hard. So we were kind of quiet. There's a lot of projects put on hold from March until June last year, but the lockdowns here worked really well; and the hotel quarantines. What we saw initially was that the smaller to mid-sized practices, especially in high-end residential with kind of longstanding clients carried on throughout in Australia; they weren’t affected too much at all. The larger ones were, so they pulled right back and there were redundancies in hospitality, retail and commercial offices; they were all hit. We did see quite a lot of redundancies from big firms here. But then by the time we got to September time, we started to get the bigger firms coming back and they were looking for very specific skillsets. So one or two roles, you know, the ‘we really need these kind of people’: ‘Unicorn briefs’, we call them. 

But as we got towards the New Year, we've seen those larger practises hiring more generalist skills. So they are scooping people up - strategic roles, HR, finance as well as the kind of generalist architects. There is a skills shortage now, because the borders are closed. It's really difficult, even for Australians to get back, so it's getting really quite competitive. I think we're seeing in all regions that the interview process is longer, though. People really want to make sure they get the right hire, so whereas we would have seen maybe one, two interviews tops, sometimes now it's three or four. The process is elongated.

DT: And how about the picture in in the UK, and in London?

LU: It’s still challenging. Again, high end resi is quite busy and interiors, infrastructure. We're seeing more contract roles - so people taking on three- or six-month contract positions, rather than permanent. So it’s very like it is in the States. London New York and Los Angeles seem to be in a very similar situation, whereas Melbourne and Sydney are kind of ahead. London now is what Australia was maybe like in September last year and it seems to be tracking with the virus and the number of cases.

Here most firms – ours included – are going back into the office, so three days a week; we have people in full time. There's still a bit of flexibility, whereas obviously as you know, in New York, the guys never went back into the office really. They say that they've been working remotely from the beginning so our guys there haven’t been in the office since March, and that follows with most of the practices, as well. What we're seeing in Australia is very much a V-shaped recovery. There's a sense that people have been locked up. We were joking the other day, saying it's like when you've been on a detox and you can't wait to go out and party! There’s all this pent-up…(laughs)…let's do something! We've missed out on a year of our lives! Let's go for it! 

DT: It reminds me of those pictures of people at the January sales held by a cordon at the shop front before they run in! We are going to be sort of unlocking – Boris Johnson is going to be announcing a series of measures today (Monday). So how do you see the picture emerging perhaps as a final question in the next three to six months in the UK and Australia in terms of the recruitment market and architecture generally - and construction generally if you stretch that far – into those sectors?

LU: I think if we follow the same path that we have in Australia in the States and the UK then we will see people hiring. There's likely to be a lot of demand for talent because we're not getting the influx; we've got Brexit happening, so we're obviously going to have a reduction in the number of Europeans coming. We have had a lot of people leave the UK; this is Brexit and there are a lot of returners; Australians leaving and coming back here. So I think we'll be talent-short, pretty quickly, in the UK. Certainly within six months, I would say. We will see that, and we could potentially see salaries being pushed as a result. That's what we're seeing in Australia because you're limited – we used to have an influx of lots of people coming from different places, and if that tap isn't turned back on, you're relying on local talent and that does push the salaries up.

We’re also potentially going to have a skills shortage; the people who have experienced working from home, they know what they're doing. The more junior people who are learning from listening to calls with associates and directors and detailing, and all of those upskillings that you learn sitting next to someone. We saw that in the recession there was a period where people hadn’t built anything, so they hadn’t detailed and there was a real skills shortage. So I think that could also be a kind of issue going forward.

DT: But you're optimistic generally for your company as well as the market?

LU: Yeah, we are. I mean, we don't know what's going to happen when furlough ends. I think a lot of practices have been propped up and have been using that, so that's going to be a kind of moment of realisation. It has stopped in Australia, but it was a slightly different system. It was slightly more helpful for the practices here. It was a job-keeper, so they could continue to work, rather than people being just kind of ‘on the bench’, if you like, which is what you've got with furlough. So I think that will be a moment, but yeah, if it follows the same sort of track anything like we're seeing Australia come out of, then we envisage it could be quite difficult to get good people. 

DT: And: final question: you mentioned three breakages in the move to your new house…,

LU: (laughs)

DT: ...what were they and were they your fault or Mark (Middleton’s (Urquhart’s partner and Grimshaw group managing partner)?

LU: (laughs) Definitely Mark’s!  No, nothing really. Quite insignificant. A couple of bowls and a water jug. You're not allowed to bring wine so there were no wine breakages.

DT: Really?

LU: Yeah, no food, no medicine. They checked them all. So yeah, you can't pack anything. Yeah, we were quite surprised. You look shocked! We were too.

DT: Yeah, I am shocked! 

LU: I think the UK is starting to get a lot more of Australia's wine because they have fallen out with China so they're importing all the stuff over there instead.

DT: Well, thanks very much. Have a good one and we'll catch up soon!

LU:  Yeah. Lovely to speak to you!

DT: Alright, see you soon!

LU: Bye!

*please note this article was taken from the NLA website - read their article here. *

Author: David Taylor, Editor, New London Architecture, Bespoke Careers

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