Navigating the Shortage of Subconsultants: Don’t Let Subs Sink Your Project (Part 1)

oswaldcompanies March 7, 2023

When serving as the lead or prime designer on a major project, nothing is more reassuring than having a knowledgeable and reliable team of subconsultants you can count on to bring your designs to life.

Ideally, lead designers build long-lasting relationships with subconsultants who understand the lead’s business and can provide the skills and expertise needed to carry out their specialized roles at a high standard.

In good times, when quality projects, skilled professionals, labor, supplies and materials are readily available, putting together a talented design team of subconsultants with whom you are well familiar is typically the norm. But lately, with shortages of resources — human and material– putting together talented design teams to execute quality designs on budget and on schedule has proven more difficult.

It’s a Different World

Over the past few years, largely due to the COVID pandemic and its repercussions (such as supply chain interruptions), the lead designer’s stable of proven subconsultants has taken a serious hit. The shortage of experienced subconsultants has led to unprecedented competition for available talent. Project schedules have grown exponentially as lead designers require more time to assemble needed talent and materials.

Lead designers have ended up having to hire subconsultants with whom they have little or no experience. Not surprisingly, it has been somewhat hit and miss as far as the quality of subconsulting services are concerned and the time it takes to deliver them.

So, how are lead designers coping with this shortage of available subconsultants? Those who are highly proactive in their search for talent are having the most luck.

Start by contacting the subconsultants you currently use or have used in the recent past to find out how they have dealt with the pandemic and resulting work delays and disruptions.

  • Has the size of their staff been reduced?
  • Have they added or subtracted design disciplines and services?
  • Are they currently available for new projects or are they backlogged months into the future?
  • What is the typical lead time subconsultants need to commit to a new project?
  • What types and sizes of projects are they currently equipped to take on?
  • How much staff turnover have they experienced?
  • What is the experience level of their current staff?
  • Do they have new employees, and are they having inexperienced workers execute complex designs?

Once these subconsultant profiles have been created, you can match each one to your firm’s needs. Update your firm’s profile as well so you can better identify matches between the subconsultants’ skills and your current and future projects.

After you have completed the profiles of your current subconsultants, conduct a similar exercise with other design firms whom you might hire as a sub in the future. Look for firms with talents and experience levels that match your projects and complement your current subconsultants and your staff.

Develop a roster that includes all the design disciplines you typically hire: civil engineers, structural engineers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, landscape architects, etc. Schedule face-to-face, get-acquainted meetings with the most promising subs with whom you have not yet worked.

While this method isn’t foolproof, it will put you ahead of the game.

Oswald can provide guidance on insurance issues and can refer you to fully vetted consultants. Contact your Oswald representative to learn how we can help.

View our entire series:

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