How To Hire Qualified Subcontractors

There is a lot that goes into hiring a qualified subcontractor to get the job done because hiring the wrong subcontractor can create a variety of consequences.

As a matter of fact, according to the Construction Project Managers that we surveyed in our article How To Avoid Construction Schedule Delays, extending a project timeline due to issues  involving subcontractors were one of the biggest challenges faced.

This article aims to teach you the practices so that you can successfully bring the right subcontractors onto your project, not just to get the job done, but to get it done on time, on budget, and to your company and the owner’s standards.

Here are six things to consider when hiring subcontractors:

1. Selectivity

Hiring Qualified Subcontractors

One thing that the Construction Project Manager’s whom we spoke with stressed was to be selective when hiring; even when you are in a rush to find subcontractors, it is necessary to consider the following questions:

  • Do you both have the same goals?
  • How ambitious is the subcontractor to get the job done?
  • Have you heard about the subcontractor before?
  • What are their capabilities?
  • Can they follow simple directions, for example proposal submission procedures?
  • Is this just another job or do they engage in connecting with the project?

Dennie Ashby of Burns & McDonnell Engineering makes it clear: “You should never settle for a sub par subcontractor. Vetting ahead of time … is critical to success.”

While it might appear to be obvious, it is paramount that you screen your potential subcontractors. A good rule of thumb is for potential subcontractors to provide proof of a number of years of experience doing similar work. Look at this work that they have performed, and check out their references if possible.

You can also consider working with a recruitment service provider. Some companies will do all the work for you from finding skilled laborers to employing them. One of these companies is Design & Construct, which has one of the most extensive databases of current skilled workers in Australia.

Finally, hire the subcontractor that has their next jobs lined up. If this subcontractor has a waiting list, it is more than likely that they know what they are doing. Would you want to see the doctor who never has any patients, or the one whose office is always crowded (just keep in mind #6)?


2. Define your scope of work beforehand

Hiring Qualified Subcontractors

You need to outline a clear, detailed, scope of work with the subcontractor. Clearly defining the scope is important so that when evaluating the subcontractor you have a well-defined set of requirements to check their qualifications against.

With a well-defined scope not only can you better evaluate the subs, but also, more qualified subcontractors will self select for the job.

It is important to not only verbally state the scope of the project, but to get it down on paper. Not only does this serve as a record, but it allows the subcontractor to look at each piece of it.

When speaking with a subcontractor, they might nod their heads and say that they can get the job done because they want to get the job. At the same time, they might miss important aspects of the project that they would have gotten if it was down on paper.

John of AdvanceTEC uses the process of defining the scope of work as an opportunity for the subcontractor to:

  • Identify conflicts or challenges associated with their scope of work
  • Speak about the proposal
  • Come to the table with solutions, ideas, and problems that could occur

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3. Complete a Pre-Qualification Evaluation

Hiring Qualified Subcontractors

A mistake that some Project Managers make is focusing solely on cost. While cost can make or break a deal, there is much more to consider.

Hence, it is vital to create a checklist of the expectations that you want your potential subcontractor to meet and to evaluate each subcontractor against multiple criteria. This gives you an opportunity to take a look at each separate criteria to determine the subcontractor that is the best for the project.

Eight of the most common benchmarks of the Project Manager’s that we interviewed were:

  • Technical Skills
  • Quality of Work
  • Proposed Team Members
  • Execution Plan
  • Safety Records
  • Schedule
  • Organization
  • Insurance

When going through each point on your checklist, ask pertinent questions to help you decide which values you both share, as well as to get a good sense of their work ethic.

Only work with subcontractors that meet your criteria.

A tip from Roger W. George of AECOM:

“Evaluate Safety, Quality, and Performance in that order. Performance is a byproduct of safety and quality. Those that achieve high standards in safety and quality have a performance factor which speaks for itself.”

4. Network

Hiring Qualified Subcontractors

You never know when you will be hired for a certain project. Therefore, you should always be open to forming new connections with all types of subcontractors in your area, even ones that you think you will never need.

One thing that we heard from a lot of project managers is that there tends to be a limited sub pool in the construction industry, so it is so important to be proactive. Have the contact information of a number of subcontractors for when they are needed.

Thus, it is important to put effort into networking. You can network through word of mouth, websites like Linkedin, or construction forums.

You never want to be hired for a project and say, “oh I wish I could get in contact with so-and-so.”

5. Get To Know The Team

Hiring Qualified Subcontractors

It is important to get a good grasp on the team you may be working with.

Because of this, Jim Trythall from Wood Partners suggests getting to know more than one person from the potential subcontractor team before making a hiring decision.

He tells us, “I really try to focus on forming relationships when hiring new subs.  For a major sub, I like to meet their team, find out who they propose as their PM or onsite foreman, and get a feel to see how engaged the actual people performing on the project will be. ”

6. Learn from experience

As Quinn of Brahma Group, Inc. tells us, hiring subcontractors is a process of trial and error. Even if the subcontractor that you hired received good references, subcontractors are not “one size fits all,” meaning that just because they worked for other types of projects and companies does not mean that they will work for you.

Even though you will never be completely sure, it is still important that you are diligent in your search. If the subcontractor does well, then you can hire this subcontractor again when needed, but if the subcontractor does not, then you will keep looking.

In summary, hiring qualified subcontractors is a challenge to many, but it is a challenge that can easily be defeated. Bringing aboard the right subs can definitely ensure that your project is completed correctly and successfully. Following the above advice ensures that you hire reputable and dependable subcontractors, and bring only the best to your team.

Update 2/16/2017:

We our delighted that this article has been helpful for our readers. We have received additional suggestions in regards to the best practices for hiring subcontractors, and we would like to include this quote from Juan Rodriguez with some advice that we have missed. He tells us, when hiring subcontractors, it is also helpful to “evaluate their past EMR Rates, OSHA recordables, balance sheets or income statements, [and] bonding capabilities.”


Priority Matrix is a software solution that helps teams collaborate more effectively by providing a platform that centralizes project documents, action items, and communication all in one place.

To start your 14 day trial now, enter your work email below!

To download a worksheet for hiring subcontractors, click here.

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Hiring Qualified Subcontractors

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Danielle Levine

Danielle works in Marketing Department of Appfluence. She enjoys learning about the best business productivity, team management, and prioritization strategies to help individuals and teams reach their full potential.

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