#PowerToTheTrades: The Value of Trade Contractors and Subcontractors from Design to Delivery

November 18, 2019 Wendy Rogers

On any large commercial construction project, trade contractors make up the hundreds, if not thousands, of construction workers on the job site. They operate the equipment, install materials, and, overall, get it done. They are the driving force on construction projects, responsible for implementing the intricate designs imagined by owners and design teams. 

The subcontractors are the skilled tradespeople who possess deep knowledge and years of experience in their trade. They have insights into innovative materials and have refined their installation techniques. They have access to the latest equipment to conduct their work faster and at a higher quality. After the project is completed, many subcontractors transition from construction into service to maintain the systems their company installed.

Because of their subject-matter expertise in installation and maintenance, the role of trade contractor needs to advance into a more prominent role in design and pre-construction. They know what is constructible and can offer design teams and architects a different perspective into designing. They can suggest different materials that deliver better value. They understand the intricacies in design and installation to improve maintenance and increase the lifespan of a building. Trade contractors are the true builders in construction and the constructability experts.



Workers making final touches to HVAC system.


Integrating Trades from Design to Delivery

According to MCSER, Quality, Journal of Construction Engineering, 70% of rework is design-induced. To reduce the amount of rework caused by design, the inclusion of trade contractors early into the planning and design process is critical. Trade contractors must be aligned with the owners and design team on the vision and intent of the building as they leverage their expertise and experience to provide insight into a constructible design. They can suggest ways to minimize labor costs during construction and address the overall building lifecycle cost, not just construction cost.

While the steps from conception, design, construction to handover form quite a fragmented process, the technology supporting the process is no better. Each stakeholder utilizes a different solution creating unproductive data silos and interoperability gaps. A BIM-centered model closes the loop in the value chain so that all stakeholders, including subcontractors, can communicate more effectively for the most value-driven design, construction, and operation of a building.


Purpose-Built System for Trade Contractors 

When subcontractors are not closely aligned with the owners and design team, the construction phase serves as the riskiest portion of the building lifecycle. Because of the contractual nature in construction, the general contractor bears a significant amount of risk on a project. However, the risk shifts down to the trade contractors to deliver their portion on-time with high quality.  To mitigate that risk, trade contractors must hold their field workers accountable. Field workers must document their work diligently to uphold accountability.

Through the eSUB Field Works mobile app, users capture information directly from the field and share it in real-time with the office. This capability allows the trade contractor's employees in the office to instantly communicate with the general contractor regarding any relevant issues from the field. Documentation created out of eSUB is date and time-stamped to provide a historical timeline of the project.

It is in the general contractor's best interest to establish a project management system to bring together all stakeholders, including trade contractors. In the spirit of collaboration, many trade contractors enter project information into their general contractor's project management system. However, it is not the trade contractor’s system; they are only invited as collaborators. Because it is not their system, the trade contractor cannot manage the project internally within their team. 



The General Contractor controls and owns all the data. Subcontractors are usually forced to log into their GC’s system and don’t own any of the data. 


Workflows to Track Labor and Productivity

Most importantly, trade contractors work on multiple projects with different general contractors, which requires them to log in to many systems to manage their projects. However, using all these different systems does nothing for a trade contractor to manage their projects holistically and improve accountability and collaboration between their field and office team.

Because the trade contractors perform the work and the general contractors manage the work of various trades, it's evident that their roles and workflows in managing the project are drastically different. Therefore, there are distinct differences in a general contractor-based project management system, and one built specifically for trade contractors. A GC-based project management system fosters collaboration with the many different stakeholders in the project, including the owner, engineer, designers, and subcontractors. The GC's system is meant to collect documentation and route them to different parties.


Watch eSUB In Action


Because trade contractors perform most of the labor on projects, labor is their most significant risk on a project. Trade contractors need a project management system to track labor productivity and project deliverables in real-time.

Subcontractors utilize eSUB to track a project from the design or estimate stage with budgeted material and labor costs broken out into systems, phases, and cost codes according to a work breakdown structure. eSUB's easy-to-use mobile app captures live data from the field to deliver meaningful information and track actual costs against estimated costs. This method of a work breakdown structure and full-cycle job costing is critical for trade contractors. Construction project management systems purpose-built for trade contractors such as eSUB deliver this granularity when managing projects. eSub helps ensure that their teams are productive, their projects are profitable, and their customers, who are project owners and general contractors, are satisfied.



Subcontractors needs a purpose-built system to accommodate their workflows and serve as their own system of record on projects. 


“The way a general contractor tracks money, time, and information is totally different from a subcontractor,” says TJ Clark, General Manager, Northern Services. “Luckily, we found eSUB, which is geared specifically for subcontractors. We’ve been using eSUB for over five years because it works the way we work.”



Construction is a collaborative process built on great relationships. Fortunately, there are many technology systems now available to help support and streamline that process. Let's change the conversation in construction and open the avenues of collaboration with trade contractors. Visit the eSUB Booth at Connect & Construct and Autodesk University and learn how we work together and change construction by empowering trade contractors.


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