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Firms Report Mixed Results in Business Quarterly Survey

Hiring outlook brightens; billable hours and inquiries for new work dip

Business conditions appeared stalled for the landscape architecture profession in the fourth quarter of 2013 but may be entering a turnaround, according to the latest American Society of Landscape Architects’ Business Quarterly survey. Although billable hours and inquiries for new work dipped during the fourth quarter, about half of all firms indicated plans to hire in early 2014—a sign they are expecting more work.

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Some 75.7 percent of respondents reported stable to improved billable hours, a decline from the third quarter of 2013 (80.6 percent). Another 74.9 percent reported stable to higher inquiries from potential clients for new work, similar to what had been reported from the previous quarter (78 percent).

Year to year, 81.5 percent of respondents indicated fourth-quarter billable hours remained about the same or were higher. Additionally, 81.5 percent claimed steady or increased inquiries for new work compared to Q4 2012.

Across the board, the majority of respondents (68.4 percent) indicated slightly to significantly improved business results for 2013, compared to 2012. Of all firms with two or more employees, nearly half (48.5%) indicated they plan to hire in the first quarter of 2014. Half of all firms with 50 to 99 employees will be hiring an experienced landscape architect in the first quarter of 2014.

“The hiring picture is encouraging, a finding that is mirrored in the recent growth in postings to ASLA’s job board, JobLink,” says Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA. “Furthermore, year-to-year comparisons also point in the right direction.”

The survey also asked firms about their K-12 outreach in 2013. Fully 17.4 percent of survey respondents indicated they participated in some type of student activities specifically related to the landscape architecture profession. The most popular outreach activity took place in the classroom (45.8% for all firms that responded positively), followed by outdoor/field activity (29.2%), student mentorship (29.2%), and visits to the firm (22.9%). Most firms supported between one to three events (83.3%).

Increasing awareness of the landscape architecture profession (72.9%) was the most important benefit cited by survey respondents that reported conducting activities, followed by inspiring students to become landscape architects (43.8%), enriching the lives of schoolchildren by relating school to work (35.4%), and becoming positive role models for students (35.4%). A full 83.3% of those who hosted activities described their satisfaction in participation in school outreach as fairly to very high, while 57.1 described their firms’ commitment to K-12 outreach as fairly to very high.

KEY SURVEY HIGHLIGHTS

Compared to the third quarter 2013, your fourth quarter 2013 billable hours were:
Significantly higher (more than 10%) – 8.6%
Slightly higher (5 to 10% higher) – 27.1%
About the same (plus or minus 5%) – 40.0%
Slightly lower (5 to 10% lower) – 12.1%
Significantly lower (more than 10%) – 12.1%

Compared to the third quarter 2013, your fourth quarter 2013 inquiries for new work were:
Significantly higher (more than 10%) – 12.8%
Slightly higher (5 to 10% higher) – 26.6%
About the same (plus or minus 5%) – 35.5%
Slightly lower (5 to 10% lower) – 14.2%
Significantly lower (more than 10%) – 11.0%

Year to year, compared to the fourth quarter in 2012, your fourth quarter 2013 billable hours were:
Significantly higher (more than 10%) – 25.4%
Slightly higher (5 to 10% higher) – 36.2%
About the same (plus or minus 5%) – 19.9%
Slightly lower (5 to 10% lower) – 9.1%
Significantly lower (more than 10%) – 9.4%

Year to year, compared to the fourth quarter in 2012, your fourth quarter 2013 inquiries for new work were:
Significantly higher (more than 10%) – 24.9%
Slightly higher (5 to 10% higher) – 33.5%
About the same (plus or minus 5%) – 23.1%
Slightly lower (5 to 10% lower) – 8.2%
Significantly lower (more than 10%) – 10.3%

Do you plan on hiring any employees in the first quarter of 2014 (multiple answers, including sole proprietors)?
Yes, we’ll be hiring an experienced landscape architect – 13.6%
Yes, we’ll be hiring an entry-level landscape architect – 11.1%
Yes, we’ll be hiring an intern – 12.8%
Yes, we’ll be hiring support staff – 10.7%
Yes, we’ll be hiring other design/architecture/engineering staff – 11.9%
Yes, we’ll be hiring other staff – 5.3%
No, we’re not currently hiring – 57.6%

For those firms with two or more employees:
Yes, we’ll be hiring an experienced landscape architect – 15.5%
Yes, we’ll be hiring an entry-level landscape architect – 12.6%
Yes, we’ll be hiring an intern – 14.6%
Yes, we’ll be hiring support staff – 12.1%
Yes, we’ll be hiring other design/architecture/engineering staff – 14.1%
Yes, we’ll be hiring other staff – 6.3%
No, we’re not currently hiring – 51.5%

How would you describe business results for 2013 compared to 2012?
Significantly better (more than 10 percent) – 33.3%
Slightly better (5 to 10% higher) – 35.1%
About the same (plus or minus 5%) – 15.8%
Slightly worse (5 to 10% lower) – 6.8%
Significantly worse (more than 10%) – 9.0%

Did your firm participate in any K-12 school outreach in 2013 that was specifically related to the landscape architecture profession?
Yes – 17.4%
No – 82.6%

What did this outreach involve for students? (multiple answers)
Classroom activity – 45.8%
Outdoor/field activity – 29.2%
Visit to firm – 22.9%
Mentorship of student – 29.2%
Activities aimed at minority students – 8.3%
Other (please specify) – 27.1%

How many events or activities did your firm support?
1-to-3 – 83.3%
4-to-7 – 14.6%
8-to-10 – 02.1%
10+ – 0.0%

What benefits, if any, result from your firm’s outreach to schools? (multiple answers)
Inspiring students to become landscape architects – 43.8%
Increasing awareness about the landscape architecture profession – 72.9%
Enriching the lives of schoolchildren by relating school to work – 35.4%
Becoming positive role models for students – 35.4%
Helping to build the landscape architecture workforce for the future – 27.1%
Other (please specify) – 12.5%

Rate your satisfaction in participating in K-12 outreach:
Very high – 33.3%
Fairly high – 50.0%
Uncertain – 14.6%
Fairly low – 2.1%
Very low – 0.0%

How would you characterize your firm's commitment to K-12 outreach?
Very high – 20.4%
Fairly high – 36.7%
Uncertain – 26.5%
Fairly low – 14.3%
Very low – 2.0%

What prevented your firm or employees from doing so? (multiple answers)
Lack of opportunities – 32.3%
Lack of time – 45.6%
Lack of resources – 19.9%
Lack of interest – 19.5%
Other (please specify) – 12.8%

About the Survey
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Business Quarterly survey asks quarterly benchmarks on key statistics including billable hours, inquiries, and hiring plans. The Q4 2012 national survey was fielded January 16 to 31, 2014, with 287 primary firm contacts responding.

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