What's a Commercial Contractor vs a Sub-Contractor

What are Contractors? 

Contractors are individuals or companies that offer services to clients in exchange for a predetermined fee. These services are typically provided for a specified period of time under an agreement. It is important to note that this differs from an employment contract, which is an agreement, between an employer and an employee.

An independent contractor is a professional whom project managers rely on to handle aspects of construction projects. Sometimes these tasks may go beyond the contractor's skills or capacity leading to the involvement of subcontractors, with expertise.

Contractors are versatile and skilled across areas. Some choose to focus and develop specific talents similar to subcontractors. This specialization allows contractors to adapt and effectively collaborate with the subcontractors they bring in when facing project requirements. Subcontractors on the other hand are experts hired by contractors to handle tasks that fall outside of their expertise or when the project scope exceeds their ability to manage all aspects alone.

Clients usually hire contractors directly for a range of responsibilities. Experienced contractors maintain relationships with subcontractors to ensure they can quickly fill any gaps in service or expertise as a construction project progresses providing a solution, for the client.

What are Subcontractors?

What exactly do subcontractors do? Subcontractors are hired by contractors to perform tasks that the contractors themselves cannot handle but still remain responsible for. Subcontractors can range from individuals like a plumber hired by a construction company to national organizations. A subcontractor enters into a contract, with the contractor to provide their services. It's important to note that an employee of the contractor cannot also act as a subcontractor. 

Subcontractors play a vital role in the construction industry acting as specialists who excel in their tasks while contractors oversee the overall project. They are akin to freelancers in the building field with some having established partnerships with contractors while others are available in the market to offer their expertise. Their contributions can range from one-time niche assignments to responsibilities that span the duration of a construction project.

The versatility of subcontractors is truly remarkable. Some may join temporarily to complete a task while others become members of the team working closely alongside contractors from start to finish. These unsung heroes often play a vital role, in completing projects by utilizing their unique skills and abilities.

Role They Both Play in Construction

The role of a subcontractor and an independent contractor is similar, in the sense that both involve exchanging an amount of money for completing a task without establishing a formal master/servant relationship as recognized by the law. However, the key distinction lies in who employs the individual. When an individual is directly employed by a company they are considered a contractor. On the other hand, if someone is hired to carry out a task for a general contractor they are referred to as a subcontractor.

A general contractor, also known as a contractor can be an individual or a company responsible, for overseeing the construction process from start to finish. While they may have expertise in trades their main role is to manage the project as a whole often delegating tasks to subcontractors. Some key responsibilities of a contractor include;

1. Securing Projects;

The success of a contractor's business relies on securing contracts. This aspect of their job is similar to sales. Requires building networks and a good reputation to attract new clients. They must have an understanding of project requirements, including procurement and scheduling in order to negotiate deals that benefit both the client and themselves.

2. Managing Project Execution;

Once they have secured a contract the contractor shifts into a role focusing on coordinating all aspects of the project. This involves hiring subcontractors for tasks ensuring smooth progress throughout the project timeline and delivering final results that meet or exceed client expectations. Effective management of teams and subcontractors requires knowledge and strong organizational skills.

Role of the Subcontractors

Subcontractors play a crucial role in construction projects as they are professionals hired by contractors to handle specific tasks. For example when constructing a building a contractor may enlist the help of electricians or a team commonly referred to as "sparkies" for the electrical work.

Although subcontractors are not employees and do not appear on the payroll their expertise is crucial to the contractor's operations often leading to repeated collaborations. It is essential to manage subcontractors by providing instructions about priorities and ensuring timely compensation for their services.

What is the benefit of using a Subcontractor to the Developer?

Many Developers in the UK adopt a subcontractor hiring strategy to establish enduring relationships with their suppliers rather than engaging with the supply chain on a project-by-project basis. This approach often leads to reduced risk assessments in supplier quotes providing benefits that ultimately favor the client.

Aside from advantages, this ongoing relationship ensures that subcontractors prioritize the developer during demand periods. They are also more inclined to assist in addressing challenges that may arise during the planning process offering solutions that facilitate planning approvals for development projects.

Nominated subcontractors play a vital role by tackling technical dilemmas early on and engaging in value engineering to align project scopes with the allotted budget. Due to their importance, they typically enjoy better payment terms. In the past older JCT contracts like the JCT SBC 98 allowed payments from clients to nominated subcontractors in situations where such payments could expedite project timelines and avoid additional costs imposed by main contractors due to delays caused by subcontractor shortcomings.

In terms of named subcontractors while clients have influence over their selection it is not absolute as it is, with nominations. The client has the option to suggest subcontractors with names during the tendering process. However, the main contractor has the right to question these suggestions before awarding the contract.

The main contractor is allowed to add names to the list of subcontractors as long as it aligns with the contract terms. The contractor handles the subcontracting process in a manner. However, if they want to work with a party not, on the approved list they need to provide a valid reason, to the Architect. The Architect cannot unreasonably reject this justification ensuring a balanced approach when selecting subcontractors.


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