General contractor's duties
Patrice Dresse is General Manager of the "Gros œuvre et Entreprise générale" cluster of the Confédération Construction and the new Director of the Fédération des entrepreneurs généraux de construction (FEGC). With his usual outspokenness, he explains the role of the general contractor, a little-known profession facing serious challenges.
How does the Construction and General Contracting cluster work?
This cluster brings together several trades at federal level: general contractors, building shell contractors, railway contractors, housing developers, the industrial construction union, Fedbeton... The aim is to pool resources to create added value, while retaining individual decision-making autonomy. One might think that in our country, the movement is centrifugal, yet general building contractors, while remaining attached to their local associations, are often multi-regional.
What is a general construction contractor?
Unlike professions such as glazier, bricklayer, concrete worker, heating engineer... being a general contractor is not a trade, it's a function. In a way, general contractors are the executors of what the architects have put down on paper. The general contractor is the orchestra conductor on the site. He's the one who establishes the link between the various trades. Generally responsible for structural work (masonry, foundations, etc.), he coordinates the other partners in the act of building and renovating, namely the professionals involved in finishing and special techniques. This really is a high value-added role, since it's the builder who takes the risk, who offers the ten-year warranty on the stability of the work he'll be implementing and on its proper execution.
The FEGC has around 5,000 members. With the exception of the Big Sixties, i.e. the sixty largest construction contractors in Belgium who are exclusively main general contractors, 85% of our 5,000 members employ fewer than ten workers and do not work 100% as general contractors.
Is the prospective builder obliged to use a general contractor?
No, he can work in separate lots. In this case, he has to coordinate all the trades, and is not covered by the ten-year warranty. Let's not forget that the art of building is not an exact science, and even more so a puzzle and a source of conflict in the case of allotment, but obviously, this procedure can appear to cost less.
What are the challenges facing the sector?
We're living through a revolution. I'm weighing my words carefully, because it's not a question of evolution. Legislators, especially at regional level, have set the bar very high in terms of building energy policy. Up until now, we've had watertightness and acoustic requirements, but now we're focusing on energy loss and airtightness. On January 1, 2015, the new requirements for passive buildings will be applied in the Brussels region. This applies to all new buildings and major renovations. Other regions have different targets. How do we get there? The challenges are enormous. Their cost is high (up to 15-25% more than normal construction), and we're in a difficult economic climate, with economic and tax incentives on the wane, and land prices skyrocketing... How can we build homes that are affordable for the masses? The answer is not obvious. In any case, there's no point in building Ferraris if you can't sell them.
Now that contractor registration has been abolished, you're warning private individuals to be on their guard.
That's right. The regulations relating to registration as a contractor have been abolished since September 1, 2012. Since then, work brokers have appeared on the market. In our view, these platforms, which bring together different trades, offer no real security. They do a hell of a lot of marketing to attract customers, especially private individuals. The risk is that you'll end up with a less-than-serious tradesman who doesn't respect the rules of the trade, leaving you with no protection in the event of a problem. We are lobbying the authorities to ensure that, when applying for bonuses or subsidies, three criteria are respected: absence of social and tax debts, and access to the profession.
by Brigitte De Wolf
Construction contractors are generally divided into two groups: General Contractors and Specialty Contractors. General Contractors are the masters of the project, overseeing every stage, and calling on the help of Specialist Contractors when necessary. Specialized Contractors, on the other hand, have expertise only in a specific area of construction, and direct only the work related to that area.
General Contractors coordinate and supervise every stage of a construction or renovation project, from design to delivery, ensuring that schedules and budgets are respected. They are responsible for the smooth running of the project, orchestrating all related activities, communicating information to all parties and ensuring the supply of resources, equipment and manpower.
In addition to ensuring the safe and productive execution of each and every task on the site, General Contractors must also assign these tasks to various professionals in the field, such as electricians, plumbers, heating engineers, carpenters and painters, whom they have selected in advance. To ensure that all these tasks are carried out, General Contractors visit the sites to which they have been assigned, making sure that their teams are working to the established norms and quality standards.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of recurring tasks that General Contractors have to perform.
Plan and submit construction projects and related budget forecasts, then ensure that each stage of the project meets established schedules:
- Set up monthly and annual business plans and make sure to include recorded revenues and profits;
- Manage expenses to ensure that they do not exceed projected costs;
- Check and approve subcontractors' quotations and oversee the payroll system to ensure they are paid accordingly.
- Plan and prepare schedules and deadlines, comparing project status with pre-established timetable:
- Develop and maintain detailed project schedules that include each of the steps required to complete the project, such as procurement and installation of equipment, or completion of various administrative tasks;
- Ensure that deadlines are met and objectives achieved to satisfy all project requirements;
- Meet with each team member to measure the success of each project;
- Prepare and distribute progress reports to inform all parties involved of tasks completed, including those that deviated from plan;
- Identify the modifications to be made and ensure that they are completed by the most qualified workforce as quickly as possible, always with a view to meeting the established schedule.
- Set up and supervise a team of highly qualified professionals:
- Hire subcontractors and subordinates, assign tasks and supervise their completion;
- Ensure that all team members are aware of current safety measures and apply them systematically;
- Ensure that each team member understands and applies the procedures necessary for the success of the project;
- Ensure that individual and collective expectations are met, and prevent and resolve disputes whenever possible;
- Prepare contracts to be signed by various parties (whether hired professionals, customers or suppliers) and approve changes to them.
- Ensuring customer satisfaction at every stage of the project, whether it's the owners of the property, appraisers, loss adjusters or insurance companies:
- Develop quality control programs;
- Closely monitor each stage of the project, both during and after completion, to ensure the quality of the work of all those involved.
- Represent the company during negotiations on union contracts or any other event requiring their participation:
- Always promote an "employer of choice" corporate culture, in order to attract, retain and motivate a qualified workforce;
- Develop and maintain lasting professional relationships and act as the main point of contact with estimators, insurers and policyholders.
- Oversee the purchase of building materials and land acquisition:
- Manage and modify purchase orders, as well as rebates, compensations or refunds, when applicable.
- Ensure that all activities inside and outside the worksite comply with current construction and safety standards.
- Supervise the progress of construction projects, ensuring that requirements are met and deadlines adhered to.
- Prepare and distribute project progress reports to inform all parties involved of the tasks carried out.
- Establish and update budgets by calculating recorded revenues and profits.
- Visit the job site to ensure that subcontractors and subordinates are working according to established criteria.