Home Features Voice of the Industry: It’s all apples and oranges

We’re in the midst of a major emergency. Our industry is not in a fit state because the potential to deliver growth and new opportunities in an efficient way is hampered and abused by bad practice that can be traced back over many years.

There’s not enough margin for errors to be absorbed and getting paid is still the top priority for all our members. While we often point the finger of bad practice towards subcontractors at main contractors let’s not kid ourselves; it’s also subcontractors on subcontractors.

Why does it still go on? Even if we’re paid on time and for what we’ve applied for, you’d think our problems could almost disappear but they don’t – and specialists are often caught up in disputes.

Disputes are non-productive and wasteful and if they did not exist we as a sector and an industry would be far more efficient and profitable. Profit should not be seen as a dirty word but the pursuit of fair profit should be encouraged. If only we could get it right from the very start.

This was precisely the point raised at the annual Specfinish industry debate (see page 21) where we heard of many instances about weaknesses creeping in at the pre-construction stage and how tender documents are often issued with inaccurate information and specifications. Then on analysis the information can be inadequate for the purpose of a fair tender so that a client can measure apples with apples and not oranges.

Whether the first you see of a contract is either bills of quantity or drawings, information that we’re being asked to base a tender on is not conducive to proposing the most efficient way to carry out a contract. Missing the opportunity to secure the benefits of the specialist installer’s knowledge of different systems and products could be a costly and time consuming mistake.

It is the specialist contractor who takes the risk and fundamentally we’re being asked to accept risks that we may not have had any control over or an opportunity to propose changes that might create efficiency or performance gains. Clients may also be missing out on innovative solutions and product development that can raise standards.

What’s happening in the procurement process suggests a worrying lack of understanding of specialist trades and knowledge of the products and systems our members install.

Companies across the sector are trying to slash costs to improve their competitive position but the bottom line is that poor quality information at tender stage can create difficulties in controlling the costs, reduces productivity and affects the delivery of a finished building. No wonder there are then disputes around variations and delays.

After all, once you’re awarded a contract the information within your tenders drives every decision you make, from long-range strategic planning to day-to-day operations. It’s absolutely critical that the client understands what it is that you are proposing – but do you understand what it is you are being asked to install?

Get it wrong and in the current climate the results could be terminal.

We can’t rely on the architects, main contractors and quantity surveyors (etc) to change so it is essential that we take steps to protect our position and do our level best to ensure that our members are equipped with the necessary skills.

What we find is contractors are under greater pressure than ever before. We all need to have our wits about us so we’ve tried to provide more on-site or in-office training courses to boost skills.

During the summer FPDC secured ConstructionSkills funding for the Management and Skills Development Programme and we’re also establishing a course programme for next year to help members with contract awareness and site manager training.

We know that by improving employees’ skills productivity can improve. Skills training is a vital component for companies to surviving this recession and although some might see it as too costly, in terms of time and money, it could make the all the difference and avoid confusing apples with oranges.

For more information about training and skills development from FPDC contact training@fpdc.org

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