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Subbing out work – the benefits and pitfalls

Sub-contractors have a long-established role in the construction industry – including within the painting and decorating sector.

‘Subbing out’ work can help businesses to grow, but is not without risk.

In this article, Painting and Decorating Association Chief Executive, Neil Ogilvie, considers the pros and cons of working with a sub-contractor.

The basics

Sub-contractors should be skilled professionals who are self-employed, but tend to work for other businesses providing additional labour, rather working directly for the customer.

The flexibility of using sub-contractors can be a great asset to a growing business, but there are a number of points to consider before subbing out your work.

The benefits

Working with sub-contractors gives sole traders and SMEs the scope to bid for larger contracts and take on bigger projects, offering additional flexible labour without the long-term commitment and investment of recruiting a new employee.

The additional labour can help businesses to grow as more than one project can be taken on at the same time, or across different sites.

Subbing out work to a self-employed professional also gives businesses swift access to the skills and experience they need, particularly if a specialist technique is specified for a project, but unlikely to be needed on a regular basis.

Building a trusting, working relationship with a sub-contractor can provide a reliable source of labour without the need for employment admin such as PAYE and pension contributions.

The pitfalls

Subbing out work to someone you don’t know well or haven’t worked with before can be risky.

As a representative of your business, you need to know that they are skilled, professional and have fulfilled any requirements you or your clients have, such as COSHH or Health and Safety training.

If they do a poor-quality job, or have a communication issue with the client, it is your reputation – and future work prospects – that are on the line.

Some contracts – particularly in the public sector – will place the onus on you to ensure that all your operatives are trained or accredited to a certain standard, which means you are responsible for making sure any sub-contractors also fulfil these requirements.

Key considerations

There are a few things to think about before subbing out part of your work:

  • Growth – if you are looking to grow, additional skilled labour from sub-contractors can be really useful, but what are your long-term aims? Would your business be better served by recruiting a new employee or taking on an apprentice?
  • Skills – subbing out work to a specialist contractor might help you complete one project, but if you plan to bid for similar jobs in the future, can you guarantee they’ll be available or would an investment in training be more beneficial?
  • Availability – finding a sub-contractor that you trust and work well alongside can be a valuable asset, but if you only want them for one-off projects on a casual basis, you will have to plan ahead as they may have other work commitments.
  • Communication – understanding the needs of your client is essential. Are you confident issuing instructions to a sub-contractor and outlining your expectations of the quality and professionalism required for the job? You are ultimately responsible for the customer experience and outcome, so you need to be sure you can communicate effectively with sub-contractors.
  • Trust – the most vital element of any relationship with a sub-contractor. Asking for references is important if you’re subbing out work for the first time and it’s a good idea to ask about previous projects too.

Sub-contractors who are PDA members will be insured, experienced and backed by the trade body. They commit to our Code of Practice, which ensures a quality job at a fair price.

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