In the last few weeks I've spent a lot of time with small SME construction sub-contractors, speaking to them about the challenges they have in meeting the requirements of larger or main contractors.
Some of these I've highlighted in my last two articles about the challenges facing construction companies generally. In the main, the discussions recently have highlighted these but the main one for smaller companies is consistency. Consistency of practice within the larger or main contractor group.
Imagine, you're a small contractor, say 50 or less employees. You work as a sub-contractor to many of the larger or main contractors. They all have different requirements in terms of enabling you to bid for work. How can you manage all these. Who's in control of your business, them or you? Are you jumping through hoops to get on a list with the potential of never getting any work? Spending money and time you don't have for no return? And, if you do get the application wrong they don't even tell you that you have and you just get no work! This last one I heard personally.
I attended an event recently in Leeds aimed at helping smaller construction companies to work with the larger or main contractors. The inconsistency was unbelievable. Trying to work for all of them would have been akin to herding cats! I was so sympathetic that I said to one of the table hosts (who worked for a large contractor), what would happen if nobody joined your framework? What would happen if nobody signed up to your methods of working? What would happen? The gentleman had the decency to look embarrassed and admitted that they would be struggling to complete projects without the smaller contractors. Another of the delegates (who worked for a small company) got him out of jail by saying that "although it's a good point it's not really going to happen is it?" Which is true. The larger or main contractors have the smaller ones by the sensitive parts of their anatomy in relation to the provision of, and volume of work.
However, how can we make larger or main contractors work more consistently in how they engage with smaller contractors and the expectations they set? In some cases they do, asking smaller contractors to become ISO 9001, CHAS and ConstructionLine accredited. But all of these cost don't they? At the end of the day, it's my belief that large or main contractors want sub-contractors to be:
Sustainable - in terms of building long term relationships
Reliable - in relation to site performance and health & safety
Fair - in how they treat their employees and their sub-contractor's
What would you say if I told you you could have all of this in one framework and provide consistency for all the large or main contractors and the solution already exists?
The CITB's "Be Fair Framework" can offer you all of this in one place at one time. It can create consistency for large, main and small contractors alike. It is a RESPONSIBLE framework for the construction industry. It helps small contractors to prove their capability and responsibility through enabling them to review their strategy, policies and procedures, site environment practice and supply chain management. It is simple straightforward and consistent.
The questions I ask is "why isn't it being used to support the industry and ease the stress and strain on smaller contractors to help them bid for and win work? Why aren't the large and main contractors working consistently to help the smaller contractors they say they can't do without? Why are they asking smaller contractors to jump through hoops adding cost and resource to them while expecting them to cut costs to win business?
Only the large and main contractors can answer those!