Best practices for effective subcontractor management

Best practices for effective subcontractor management

Hiring skilled subcontractors is crucial to success if you’re an Australian contractor. The best subcontractors typically have several years of invaluable experience in specific fields and have dozens of field technicians ready to mobilise at a moment’s notice. In other words, subcontractors empower your business with the flexibility, expertise, and labour necessary to complete a wide variety of projects. 

However, working with a group of subcontractors can be a stressful endeavour. The strategies required to get the best out of subcontractors are completely different from leading your own crew. Fortunately, there are four simple things you can do to stay on top of subcontractor management. 

Pre-qualify subcontractors 

You’ll often need more than just one subcontractor’s expertise, but if you choose the wrong ones to work with, you may derail your projects. That’s why you need to thoroughly vet prospective subcontractors before taking them on board. Here are the factors you need to consider when trying to find the right subs: 

  • Relevant qualifications – Your subcontractors must hold licences and certifications that are relevant to the work you wish to hire them for. This includes basic certifications like white cards, more specialised qualifications like Certificate IV in Plumbing, Electrical, Air-conditioning, and more. 
  • Previous experience Reliable subcontractors should have a solid track record of working with projects and companies similar to yours. Follow up with a subcontractor’s previous clients to evaluate the outcomes of their past projects and their professionalism. 
  • Proof of safety The most important criteria when looking for a subcontractor is whether they can uphold Work Health and Safety (WHS) Policies. Look for proof of compliance, such as regular training, WHS certifications, and reports of previous incidents (if any).  
  • Financial stability Poor financial solvency can lead to projects going over budget, delays in material deliveries, and a subcontractor backing out of a contract altogether. To avoid these issues, you need to closely examine a subcontractor’s liquidity, profitability, and debt issues. 
  • Equipment Subcontractors that already have access to the necessary equipment can significantly reduce overhead costs and allow projects to start sooner.
  • Price estimates The quotes prospective subcontractors generate can be a deciding factor. While it may be tempting to go for a sub that proposes the lowest bid, you need to check their estimates and see if they can truly deliver results with such a low budget. 

Establish a management hierarchy

A management hierarchy defines the responsibilities and authority of each party involved in a project. In field services, you (the contractor) will naturally be on top, but subcontracting businesses will need to know where they fall in the hierarchy. Depending on the project, you can have them report to a specific supervisor and even give them the authority to subcontract work to other businesses. 

The hierarchy should clarify the scope of work and the on-site duties subcontractors are expected to perform. These may include conducting regular safety checks, installing/maintaining special equipment, and sending daily progress logs to the relevant supervisor. Plus, by establishing a management hierarchy, you won’t run into the problem where your managers and supervisors are giving conflicting instructions to the subcontractors they’re overseeing. The hierarchy serves to show subcontractors the communication chain of command so they know where to get their instructions from. 

Foster team development

General contractors often make the mistake of treating their subcontractors as disposable after a project. Unreasonable contracts, hostile work conditions, and late payments are a recipe for a short-lived relationship with subcontractors, which can be detrimental for future projects. This is because when the next project rolls around, you’ll have a smaller pool of reliable subcontractors who are willing to work with you.

To make sure this never happens, there are several strategies you must employ. For starters, encouraging open dialogue through instant messaging, audio and video calls, and subcontractor portals is key to building a successful relationship with your subcontractors. These tools allow you to host regular meetings to check on job progress, settle on-site disputes face to face, and discuss contract terms. Subcontractor portals, in particular, help you keep subcontractors in the loop of project plans and procedures so they can better deliver higher-quality work.

Another way to foster a strong partnership is to keep your subcontractor and their teams’ well-being top of mind. When planning out projects, it’s important to set realistic budgets and deadlines so subcontractors aren’t constantly overworked to meet your goals. Additionally, paying on time and offering bonuses for finishing milestones ahead of deadlines can greatly improve your standing with your subs.  

Utilise job management software

By far the most effective way to get the best out of your subcontractors is by implementing top job management software like WorkBuddy. With WorkBuddy, you gain access to a central dashboard that allows you to track your subcontractors and the jobs they’ve been assigned to. The dashboard displays a top-down view of project workflows and how far along your subcontractors are in real time. 

What’s more, WorkBuddy searches your database for the most qualified subcontractors for the job. The software automatically processes work orders and assigns the task to the best subcontractor based on specific criteria you’ve set, such as their certifications, minimum price estimates, and availability. WorkBuddy even includes custom job forms that walk subcontractors through all the procedures involved in a project to ensure it’s completed up to your contractual and safety standards. 

If you want to take the guesswork out of managing your subcontractors, you need to implement WorkBuddy. Book a demo today to experience its full capabilities, including operational dashboards, job scheduling, accounting, and more. 

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