Risk management is essential to a successful project. What could be riskier than hiring a new, unfamiliar contractor or subcontractor? The risk of default should be taken seriously. It can affect the project schedule, the quality of performance, project safety, and it could even determine the likelihood a payment dispute will occur. A great way to minimize project risk is through establishing a contractor prequalification procedure when scrutinizing bids.
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Establishing a Contractor Prequalification Procedure
Before hiring anyone, it’s important to have a good idea of their character and capacity. For many contractors and project managers, the prequalification process is simple – they just work with the contractors and subs they’re comfortable and familiar with! But what if the usual suspects aren’t available? Or, what if you’re trying to grow your business? How can you be sure that the companies you’re working with know what they’re doing and don’t stir up trouble?
The answer to all of these questions is contractor prequalification (and, of course, subcontractor prequalification). The pre-assessment of potential contractors and subs can occur at two different points.
This means sending requests for qualifications before accepting any bids and restricting bidders to only a group of pre-approved contractors subs. Through a pure prequalification process, the party reviewing bids can ensure that every bid was submitted by someone who’s been vetted. Obviously, this limits the pool of potential of contractors and subs, and that might affect how competitively priced bids will be. The tradeoff, though, is that the risk of hiring the wrong business is minimized – as long as the contractor prequalification process is sound.
Prequalifying at Bidding Stage
Another method is to have the requested information sent along with the actual bids themselves. When a contractor or subcontractor’s qualifications are reviewed at the bidding stage, a contractor will likely have more bids to choose from. Plus, this might give a better chance to evaluate whether the risk level associated with a given subcontractor would be worth the bid they’ve placed.
Reviewing Qualifications is an Ongoing Process
Keep in mind, though, contractor or subcontractor prequalification isn’t enough. Rather, it should be an ongoing process. Even the most qualified contractors or subs can run into risks and liabilities. A useful practice is to periodically “re-qualify” or perform evaluations. This is mutually beneficial because it maintains peace of mind from the owner/management side but also forces the contractors and subcontractors to regularly assess their own financial liabilities.
Advantages of Contractor Prequalification
Benefit to Those Qualifying Bidders
Using a pre-qualification process can help owners assess the interest generated by the project among qualified firms. If there is little interest, adjustments may be necessary to make the project more attractive. This also helps reduce the time and work involved when evaluating bidders. The weeding out process helps to decrease the volume of bids and problems associated with low bids from unqualified contractors. Plus, it increases the odds of getting the best contractor at the right price.
Benefit to the Bidders Themselves
Pre-qualification procedures help simplify the bidding process for both qualified and unqualified subcontractors. Those who are under-qualified can evaluate whether submitting a bid is even worthwhile. Or, if they still want to pursue the project, they may consider forming a joint venture with some other firm to increase their chances of success.
For those contractors and subs who are already qualified, they’ll have an advantage on under-qualified firms to be weeded out in the bidding process – which could encourage more qualified firms to compete. They’ll that some unqualified business won’t be able to swoop in and undercut their bid. Plus, the bids will also be more competitive since bidders know they’re only competing against those who meet the minimum level of competence required.
What do you Look for During Contractor Prequalification?
Know who you’re working with! When sending a request for qualifications, you should have a checklist of the different characteristics you are looking for in a contractor or subcontractor. This list can include a number of different factors, but the big 3 are business information, financial stability, and safety record.
This is the baseline of where to start when prequalifying contractors. You should know who the officers, shareholders, partners and any other stakeholders involved in their business. This includes any parent, affiliate or subsidiary companies that the contractor may be involved with. Request some work reference letters. These could be from past GCs or suppliers to get an idea of how they operate on a day-to-day basis, and it will show if there’s a history of disputes or litigation. Find out their current business status as well. How large is their current workforce? Do they have a work backlog?
This is another important aspect of protecting the project and your business. It may not seem as important as safety, but it shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Request some information on the past job history, including their past few contracts and the size of the largest contract they performed. Has this contractor ever filed for bankruptcy? What is their expected annual revenue volume? Having a clear picture of a subcontractor’s finances can help you assess the amount of risk you may be taking by hiring them.
Safety Statistics & Procedures
This is another big one! Safety concerns should be one of your top priorities when hiring contractors. One of the best measures of a company’s safety track record is their EMR or (experience modification rating). This is a number of insurance companies use to gauge not only the past costs of injuries but also the chances of any future risk. The lower the EMR (industry standard is 1.0) the lower their worker’s comp premiums will be. This information can be obtained by submitting a signed Letter of Authority to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI). The NCCI will provide you with their current rating, past rating, and a risk history report of the past 5 payroll years. You should also look into their safety and OSHA 300 log record keeping history. Any previous compliance issues should be a red flag.
Keep in Mind, Any Other Information Could be Helpful!
These are just a few important considerations when deciding who to hire. Depending on the size and complexity of your project, the amount of information you request will vary. Ultimately, having a sound, methodical evaluation process before signing a contract will help identify, analyze, and potentially eliminate any contractors or subs that could cause problems to your project or your business. Pre-qualifying can have a significant impact on time and quality of performance. Knowing who you are in business with can prove the difference between a project’s success or failure!
Technology Makes Contractor Prequalification Easy
Prequalifying contractors and subcontractors might sound tedious. And sometimes – it will be! However, much like lien waiver management and notice processes are easy using levelset, contractor and subcontractor prequalification can be made much easier by leveraging technology. Below are a few popular software companies offering contractor and/or subcontractor prequalification services.