Subcontractors are skilled laborers who handle the day-to-day work of a construction project.
Learn how to become a subcontractor and discover how this essential role fits into the construction management process.
What is a subcontractor in construction?
In the construction industry, a subcontractor is a person or entity hired by the general contractor to complete skilled labor on a construction project.
Most subcontractors enter into a separate contract with the GC instead of working directly with the project owner. Depending on project size and complexity, multiple subcontractors may be working on the jobsite simultaneously.
Common types of construction subcontractors
How to become a subcontractor in construction
As a construction subcontractor, you can work independently or as part of a larger subcontracting business.
If you’re interested in becoming a subcontractor, you’ll need to take the following steps:
Gain construction skills and experience
Get licensed and certified
Find construction opportunities
Work safely and efficiently
1. Gain construction skills and experience
The first step to becoming a subcontractor is to gain the necessary skills and experience. Subcontractors are expert craftsmen who can take the lead on specialized tasks.
Many subcontractors get their start at trade schools or through apprentice programs. Look for schools in your area that offer degrees or certification in the type of skilled labor you're interested in learning.
Some companies may also provide free on-the-job training for entry-level subcontractor positions.
2. Get licensed and certified
In many locations throughout the U.S., specific types of subcontractors must legally be licensed. This applies to both individual subcontractors and subcontracting businesses. Check federal, state, and local government resources to determine whether or not you need a license to operate and find out how to apply.
There are serious ramifications for working without a required license, including costly fines. If you aren’t a licensed subcontractor, you’ll also have trouble winning contracts with reputable GCs.
3. Get insurance
A general contractor’s insurance policies don’t typically cover subcontractors, so you’ll need your own subcontractor insurance.
Insurance protects subcontractors from legal and financial risks and can be a requirement for taking on certain projects like government work. The types of insurance you need may vary and can include general liability insurance, workers’ compensation insurance, builder’s risk insurance, and surety bonds.
Consult an insurance firm that serves the construction industry to discuss your options.
4. Find subcontracting opportunities
When you have your credentials in order, be prepared to invest a significant amount of time in finding new job opportunities.
5. Work safely and efficiently
As a subcontractor you’ll be working within a team setting, collaborating with the GC and other subcontractors each day on the jobsite. Working safely and efficiently—and practicing effective communication—is essential.
Determine how you’ll implement daily reporting, time and material tracking, and safety management. These key processes will help you effectively manage your work and maintain good professional relationships.
Tips for becoming a construction subcontractor
Given the amount of effort you need to get started, becoming a subcontractor in construction seems like a difficult feat. While that may be true, it can also be highly rewarding.
Follow these tips to increase your chances of becoming a successful subcontractor and make the most of your construction career:
Follow best safety practices
Submit daily reports on time
Understand your capabilities
Invest in digital tools
1. Prioritize quality
The work that subcontractors do will likely be closely scrutinized by both the GC and the project owner. Quality control should be a daily task.
Implement strategies that standardize QC and increase visibility for the general contractor, like quality control checklists and photo and video documentation that you can share on a consistent basis. Show the GC you’re invested in the success of the project and give them a chance to identify miscommunications before they lead to rework.
2. Follow best safety practices
Construction sites are dangerous places. Take safety seriously as a subcontractor to protect yourself and everyone else on the jobsite.
3. Submit daily reports on time
Daily reports can feel like busy work, but they’re often the best way for GCs to keep track of project progress. Make sure you’re fulfilling reporting requirements and submitting daily reports on schedule.
Your GC will appreciate that you’re keeping them in the loop, building trust and increasing your chances of working with them again in the future.
4. Understand your capabilities
Daily reports don’t just benefit the general contractor. Subcontractors should also closely track production and use the field data they collect to analyze their own performance.
Measuring estimates against actuals and seeing how many work hours went into specific tasks gives construction subcontractors a better idea of their own capabilities. They can use this insight to better plan future bids and work schedules.
5. Invest in digital tools
Pen and paper processes are outdated and overly time consuming. A comprehensive construction management app will help subcontractors manage daily reporting, improve safety and quality, track time and materials, and more all in the same place.
Efficiency is key for turning a profit as a subcontractor, so eliminate the need for manual data entry and hours of organization with smart technology that’s made for the construction industry. Look for solutions that allow you to use mobile devices to capture field data and automatically publish it into easy-to-understand insights.
These digital tools improve your communications with the GC and help you gain better visibility of your progress.
Build your subcontracting business with Raken
Raken’s easy-to-use app for subcontractors helps busy crews quickly capture detailed data from the field. Complete daily reports, track time and materials, submit safety and quality checklists, and share progress updates in real time.