Construction is one of the industries that rely heavily on subcontracting specialized works. General contractors hire third-party teams commonly to work on roofs, plumbing, electrical, concrete, and other tasks to make the work faster, but quite more often for quality.
We mentioned in one of our previous blogs that most construction firms are lacking in the workforce. For them to be successful, they need their workers to be technically adept but unfortunately, the ongoing labor shortage can’t guarantee a single firm to have all the skilled workers it needs. For this reason, many project teams resort to using subcontractors and such practice has been going on for decades now. As a result, the buildings these days come with higher quality compared to those that were built in the past where firms don’t have much access to specially-skilled workers.
Subcontracts come in different types. Since the aim is to excel in a field, they put their focus on just one or two special skills. In construction, the commonly hired subcontractors are:
- Plumbers and HVAC professionals
- Painters and Paper Hangers
- Electrical experts
- Masons, Tile Setters, Plasterers, and Stone workers
- Concrete workers
- Carpenters and Flooring specialists
- Roofing, Siding, and Sheet Metal workers
These are just some of the available subcontractors who work closely with the general contractor in completing a construction project. There are, of course, the special trade contractors who are not restricted in construction but their work are closely related so they are still tapped whenever a project needs their services. They include glazing subcontractors, excavation subcontractors, demolition teams, and iron workers.
Overall, these subcontractors play a big role in increasing the competitiveness of the main project team.
Roles and Importance of Subcontractors to Contractors
The construction industry is becoming more and more saturated despite the fact that the workforce is greatly lacking. With more industries expanding, more buildings are needed to support their additional workers and activities. The real estate industry alone seeks to consume thousands of hectares in the coming years for new residential and commercial developments.
With this growing demand of construction companies to complete these projects, construction teams are also seeking to improve their efficiency and among their top strategies to do so is using subcontractor services to make sure that their projects turn out successful.
Subcontractors greatly reduce the activities in the construction process. Concreting alone can save the general contractor and his team so much time and effort as concrete makes up the floor and walls of most buildings. Just imagine what’s there left for the contra tor to do if these parts are already done by a subcontractor. So even if the construction team lacks crew members, they can still survive a difficult project, thanks to subcontractors for their inputs.
Diversified construction projects especially require the assistance of subcontractors. They are the ones who supply the equipment and materials to be used in specialized tasks, hence saving the project team from additional costs.
Now summarizing their importance to general contractors can:
- Help Speed Up the Completion of Large Projects
As mentioned earlier, subcontractors provide additional manpower to the main project team so the work gets done faster. The helping hand they offer is especially useful in completing a larger building, Sometimes, they even take on the bigger part of the job. This allows the main project team to have more time for strategizing on better construction plans and techniques or sometimes, even accommodating an additional client.
- Provide Cost-Efficient Solutions to Lack of Labor
Subcontracting is often more cost-efficient than hiring new crew members. Employees should be given full-time salaries with benefits while subcontractors work on a budget depending on the agreement with the general contractor. Subcontractors also eliminate the risks that come with hiring incompetent people who aren’t really knowledgeable or skilled in doing construction jobs.
- Provide Expertise
Since they convey special skills, they are able to offer their expertise resulting in exceptional results. Who can do a neater electrical system than an electrical subcontractor? Who designs a better HVAC system than an HVAC subcontractor? Who installs tiles more properly than a tiling subcontractor? All these subcontractors honed their skills from proper education, training, and experience, hence making them the perfect people to carry out their own special roles.
- Increase Productivity Rate
One of the biggest benefit general contractors enjoy from getting subcontractors to help in their projects is increased productivity. Since subcontractors take a portion of the job, the main project team is freed from the more difficult tasks and can finish more of their core responsibilities in a day. Furthermore, guesswork is eliminated since subcontractors are already there to complete specialized jobs.
- Provide Specialized Knowledge
General contractors aren’t experts in everything. They would need the advice of experts of a field that they aren’t really familiar with. This makes problem solving much faster. The solutions are also more effective and appropriate. Mechanical engineers, for instance, are the best people to tap for HVAC, elevators, and escalator concerns. Electrical engineers are best at solving electrical design issues. Meanwhile, masons are best at giving insights on proper walling and brick laying inquiries.
Looking at these contributions, competent subcontractors are indeed assets to construction companies that aim to expand their operations. However, the relationship between subcontractors and general contractors are often faced by challenges. Knowing and overcoming them are what will ensure both if their successes in this industry.
Challenges Faced by Contractors and Subcontractors
Getting the right subcontractor for the job is the first step in building a good contractor-subcontractor relationship. Trust is the foundation of their partnership and it can only be built when they think they are with the right team. So it’s important to not choose subcontractors purely on price. General contractors should look into the candidates’ portfolio and test their expertise in an interview. Look at how they delivered their previous projects. Where there minimal or zero issues? Did they deliver the project on time? Aren’t they overpriced? There are so many considerations to take before pushing through with a subcontractor and these initial steps shouldn’t be taken for granted so issues will be minimized.
But just like any other relationships, the partnership between a subcontractor and a general contractor can be challenged by these problems:
- Failure in Managing Subcontractors
Despite the help they get from subcontractors, a general contractor’s schedule can still be hectic following all the meetings he needs to attend to with clients, reviewing reports from the project manager, evaluating solutions to problems, checking progress, and so on. This leads the general contractor to push back subcontractor management at the bottom of his priority list.
However, this is where their relationship can begin to become distant. There will be a lot of things that a subcontractor may need from the general contractor in a day. Just like the main project team, subcontractors may encounter unexpected problems where they will need assistance from the general contractor or his representative. If he’s always out of reach, their work gets delayed and so will be the whole project. This is most especially true when the subcontractor’s work is a pre-requisite for the next activities of the project team.
Consequently, the general contractor will lose his trust in the subcontractor, and their supposedly harmonious work relationship gets affected.
This is where a project management software becomes necessary. Since a general contractor can’t always be at the site, the software serves as a bridge that connects the general contractor with the subcontractor on the field. The advantage of using software over phone calls is the provision for document sharing. Subcontractors can now easily send reports and supporting files like photos to explain issues clearly. This way, general contractors can give a more appropriate solution or assistance to them.
- Time constraints
Change orders can also affect the work of subcontractors. While initially, they stay confident that they can finish the project on time, sudden change of schedule can make it difficult for them to stay on schedule, most especially when they are working on sophisticated tasks. Although this causes the disorder, it can’t really be controlled most especially when the client suddenly changes specs to comply with revised regulations or when errors are detected.
This is why project management tools like Pro Crew Schedule should be used to streamline some processes like communication and collaboration. It also makes data entry in real-time, alerting the subcontractors immediately about changes so they can adjust accordingly. Time is then saved and misunderstandings are avoided.
- Late Payments
Late payments are natural in construction since the main funds come from the client. However, it can’t be avoided for these late payments to cause a rift between the subcontractor and the general contractor. For subcontractors, they should be organized in sending invoices and be diligent in making follow-ups while general contractors should schedule their own invoicing to the client so they can deliver paychecks on time.
- Lack of Communication
Communication is a key ingredient in building good contractor-subcontractor relationships. Without it, subcontractors can’t update the general contractor about their progress. This can result in the general contractor growing suspicions whether the subcontractor is really doing efficient use of his paid time or not. Likewise, the subcontractor can grow ill feelings towards the general contractor when he feels like he is being neglected. Unsolvable disputes can then arise.
The use of web-based communication tools like Pro Crew Schedule can keep the lines of both parties open where they share reports and updates in real-time. Keeping each other on the loop can build trust and strengthen relationships.
Improving Subcontractor-Contractor Relationship
General contractors definitely need subcontractors to improve their competitiveness. With them, construction businesses are able to improve their credibility, which often results to winning more projects. Likewise, subcontractors need projects from general contractors so they can make their business more profitable faster.
That said, both should establish clear communication between them so they stay on the same page and be able to achieve their desired results.