Achieving a balance with good subcontractor participation
Conscientious and fair selection and management of subcontractors is one of the most important functions of a builder. Assembling the specialties to make a project work is the art and science of the industry. However, in certain cases, those specialties may reside within the builders own forces, and in many cases, this can prove an important advantage for a client.
Self-perform capabilities typically involve critical path functions such as steel, concrete and carpentry, but can extend back to earthworks and utilities, and up to mechanical, electrical, plumbing and more. With qualified skilled trades on board, builders can bring more options to the following situations:
Operating in remote locations: Subcontractors often cannot justify covering remote geography without a market to sustain business, and extended travel may be an issue for their personnel. Self-perform builders, with a vested interest in a project’s overall success, can designate their own teams as a responsible alternative, with the support of a larger engagement to make it economically feasible.
Critical schedule risks: Accelerated schedules and critical milestones may pose a challenge for subcontractors balancing multiple jobs. Once again, a self-perform builder’s vested interest in the project—and their own reputation—can provide the impetus to commit the required resources. They can often bring creative phasing or concurrent scheduling to a project, especially when they have a greater degree of influence with team members.
Fluctuating requirements: Complex or multi-phased projects may involve periods of high and low activity, or even mobilization, demobilization and then remobilization. Self-performing work can reduce time spent on subcontractor selection and onboarding in these situations, when the builder is more capable of absorbing shifts in demand.
Unique specialties: Self-perform builders often have either acquired a particular talent for a specific project and then developed it for new applications, or have accumulated expertise from years in the industry. This can be a real benefit to a client whose project requirements extend beyond the basics.
Access restrictions: Secure sites and facilities for public or private sector clients can present obstacles adding time, complexity and cost. This may involve more than the customary background checks, and a self-perform builder who has already cleared the hurdles of an arduous clearance process may be better positioned to deal with them.
Insufficient bidders: There are multiple reasons beyond location why certain projects may not attract the desired level of subcontractor coverage. Self-perform capabilities may provide a critical last-resort option when the market cannot meet demand.
Safety imperatives: While the best subcontractors bring their own commitment to safety and will readily adopt a prime contractor’s program, there are scenarios where hazards or history may suggest that one organization’s total control over staffing and standards may be the best course.
Diversity goals: Depending on the project and the composition of a builder’s workforce, self-performing tasks can provide another path to meeting minority-contracting requirements.
Insight: Even when a self-perform builder subcontracts most or perhaps all key functions on a project, their in-house expertise adds a built-in advantage for recruitment, estimating and project management. It is their business to know current best practices, providers and pricing. This immediate reality check can save clients time and money, regardless of who gets the job.
Integration: In addition to deeper insight into specific project functions, a self-perform builder can have the ability to more effectively integrate multiple aspects of a project as well, with true single-source responsibility for the client’s interests, and heightened control over quality, schedule and cost.
As in most cases, the optimum situation is a balance. Even the biggest self-perform builders may not excel in all disciplines, and there is real value in the skill and proximity of a great subcontractor. However, as cost and schedule demands continue to tighten, client and their builders need options. Self-perform capabilities can make the difference, and solve construction challenges with efficiency and value.
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About the author: Harrison, Walker & Harper (HWH) provides integrated planning, site selection and construction services, and can self-perform work in the following disciplines: Earthworks, Utilities, Concrete, Steel Fabrication & Erection, Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing. HWH works with national clients and builds primarily in a four state region of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, on either side of the I-35 corridor.