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In construction there are the general trades and then the infamous specialty subcontractors.  Ever think what is so special about the specialty trades?  The construction industry is one of the most challenging industries out there to perform well, yet due to regulation and general cultural thought most people believe they can do it.

When it comes to the general trades (excavation, rough carpentry, general drywall, etc), the skill involved in installation is not too specific and most of the code requirements are "common sense" type of stuff.  There still is some significant skill in being able to visualize a finished product prior to starting, scheduling, ordering of materials, coordinating with other work, and building the dreaded transitions between finished products.  These skills are what separates good general trade contractors from bad ones.

Specialty trades takes on a whole new level of complexity.  There is a much higher requirement for educational background and knowledge about the specific trade.  Take electrical for example, the knowledge of how electricity works, the safety implications, the code requirements from the NEC to the other NFPA requirements, the tooling that is available out there, and then the depth of the products that need to be installed.  From light fixtures (low and line voltage) to dimming systems, security systems, power conditioners, solar systems, as well as the general power and typical lighting.  The magnitude of the work is exponentially more involved than a general trade.

Along with all of the other knowledge and skills required to be a specialty, you must also have the basic construction management skills of the general trades; except these skills are also more difficult.  Trying to coordinate materials to the site when it is a heat recovery system is much more difficult than trying to get lumber to the site.  The lead times, commissioning requirements, storage requirements, and other factors all must be taken into account.  Submitting these items for approval becomes a necessity not a luxury.

Specialty contractors are the backbone of the modern world.  Looking at third world countries they have the general trades figured out, but they lack the specialty contractors.  Look at the difference in the earth quakes in Haiti and Chile as a small example.  Because Chile has utilized specialty trades like structural steel, seismic supports, advanced concrete methods, life safety systems (both suppression and notification), the loss of life from a quake that was 500 times more powerful is going to be less than 1% of the disaster in Haiti.  If I can sum up what makes specialty subcontractors so special is that we make the modern world, modern.  That is as true today as when the Empire State Building went up nearly 90 years ago.  What will make the world a better a place is the training and implementation of more specialty subcontractors world wide.

About the Author

Craig Pierce

Craig Pierce has been working in the construction industry for the past 25 years helping subcontractors master their trade. Currently he is President of Atalanta Enterprises which provides consulting services to contractors And software solutions through