The impact of subcontractor use on performance in civil construction: learning from a post-earthquake infrastructure rebuild alliance
Thesis DisciplineCivil Engineering
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Engineering
Principal contractors can achieve better financial performance in civil construction projects by increasing the proportion of works delivered by subcontractors. However, anecdotally the use of subcontractors is thought to be make principal contractors less competitive due to compounding profit margins. This study found that projects with a higher proportion of subcontracted work exhibit better financial results than projects with less work delivered by subcontractors.
This study uses the Christchurch Infrastructure Alliance (known as the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team, SCIRT) as a case study to observe why principal contracting firms engage subcontractors and the effect subcontracting has on the overall performance of a construction project.
Five top tier civil contracting firms (known as ‘delivery teams’) participated in the alliance. Each team was responsible for the delivery of individual projects. A sample of 334 individual SCIRT projects were analysed, and key delivery team staff were surveyed, to investigate the effect subcontractor engagement has on performance.
Between the five delivery teams there were clear differences in how much work was delivered via subcontracts. The extent of this subcontractor engagement had a significant effect on the relative performance of the principal contractor. A positive correlation between subcontractor engagement and overall financial performance is observed, and a negative correlation is observed between subcontractor engagement and non-financial performance.
Although the causes of these relationships appear complex, the primary reason appears to be that subcontracting fosters increased productivity by cascading financial performance incentives closer to the physical construction task. To maximise competitiveness and financial performance, principal contractors must embrace the use of subcontractors and develop efficient systems of managing subcontracted work.