Common Problems Facing New General Contractors

Just got your CSLB Class B License and are ready to strike out on your own as a general contractor?

First off, congratulations! Becoming a CSLB-certified general contractor is no joke, and you’ve worked hard to get to this point. Now you’re ready to start taking on jobs – a process that can be both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

By now, you’ve got enough experience working on jobs as a journeyman or contractor, so you know what to expect when it comes to handling the on-site responsibilities of a general contractor – but what about the rest of being a general contractor?

Yes, once you become a general contractor, your days of drilling or digging are over. Now you’re the boss, and you’ve got different things to worry about – and these are the types of things nobody teaches you.

Here are some of the most common problems that new general contractors run into – so you can be prepared when they show up.

Juggling Multiple Tasks And Projects 

One of the very first issues for general contractors is managing all the multiple areas of general contracting at once. You’ve got to handle both on-site and off-site duties all at the same time, from dealing with materials vendors to overseeing a weld, to talking to your client, to paying your taxes on time.

As a general contractor, one of the first things you need to learn is how to juggle all these various tasks and demands at once. When you’ve got a project going on, people will be asking you things, all day, every day, from the moment you wake up, to the moment you go to sleep.

Be ready for an eternal onslaught of information when you start working as a general contractor, both coming in to you and out of you. You need to be a prism to everyone involved in the project – you should be the one harnessing the whole project and then channeling out the energy.

The complexity of managing multiple projects is further compounded by the need to coordinate with various stakeholders, including clients, subcontractors, suppliers, and regulatory authorities. Each stakeholder has different expectations and requirements, adding another layer of complexity to project management.

Mismanagement can lead to project delays, cost overruns, and damaged reputations, especially if they happen more than once, but the reality is that you’ll never be able to handle every task perfectly, every time. In fact, a study by McKinsey & Company found that 98% of large-scale construction projects incur cost overruns or delays.

In this situation, it’s important – as always – to first remain calm, and then, assess the situation. Once you’ve taken a moment to consider what to do, then you can take action and – again, calmly – begin fixing the problem with your team.

Always maintain calmness and clear-mindedness when dealing with a problem on a job site. You are the prism. You set the tone for the job, and it’s important you maintain an aura of calmness. 

Unpredictable Weather

More pertinent than ever now for general contractors just coming onto the scene is to always stay aware and flexible when it comes to weather. 

For example, July was the hottest month in human history, and in California in particular, we felt it. In that situation, you need to be aware of the extreme heat and take caution, like adding more shade to your job site or enforcing mandatory water breaks.

It’s important to not only prepare for the worst when it comes to weather as a general contractor, but it’s also important to budget for it. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), weather-related delays cost the construction industry over $4 billion annually.

While weather forecasting tools can provide some guidance, their accuracy is not always guaranteed, making weather-related disruptions a constant concern for contractors. You must always have contingencies for any weather issues.

Unpredictable Material Costs

The cost of construction materials is another common problem for general contractors, especially these days. Prices can fluctuate wildly due to factors such as supply chain disruptions, changes in demand, or geopolitical events. 

These fluctuations are often sudden and random and put a ton of strain on the already tight budgets of general contractors. And costs have only increased recently – a report by Turner & Townsend revealed that construction costs increased by 5% in 2022 due to rising material prices. And considering the, let’s say, shaky ground that the economy is on as of writing this, it’s important to constantly stay ahead of any cost issues. 

In addition to the direct impact on projects themselves, extending the lengths of projects, and more. Most importantly, it can make it difficult for contractors to accurately estimate project costs, which obviously affects your bottom line both in terms of captured profit and in terms of missed opportunities due to overbidding.

Skilled Labor

The construction industry is currently grappling with a shortage of skilled labor. 

The problem is further exacerbated by an aging workforce and a lack of interest among younger generations in pursuing careers in construction. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction industry will need to hire 430,000 more workers in 2023 to meet demand – a number that seems unlikely to be met.

As a general contractor, this presents a massive problem.  The labor shortage is not just a numbers game. It also involves the quality of the workforce. 

The construction industry requires a wide range of skills, from manual labor to technical expertise, and fewer workers means fewer subcontractors you can trust. Trust is a key factor of building a quality team that can complete the jobs you worked so hard to earn – so this skilled labor shortage is a real issue.

We honestly don’t have much advice here – this is a deep issue that no single gen con can fix. The only thing we can say is if you find a good sub that delivers good work, HOLD ONTO THEM!

Regulatory Compliance Issues

General contractors must navigate a complex web of regulations and standards that are constantly changing – from building codes and safety regulations to environmental guidelines. While it’s difficult, it’s no excuse.

Non-compliance can result in hefty fines, project delays, and even legal action in many cases.  A study by the National Association of Home Builders found that regulatory costs account for 24.3% of the final price of a new single-family home.

In this situation, it’s often good to delegate your compliance issues to a legal advisor or a lawyer. Anyone who is an expert in compliance can make a huge difference to a general contractor, and like many subcontractors you’ll hire, they’re well worth the money.

Slipping Safety Standards

Maintaining high safety standards is a critical but challenging task for general contractors. Construction sites are inherently hazardous, and accidents can lead to injuries, fatalities, and legal liabilities – which is why OSHA reported that one in five worker deaths in 2022 were in construction. 

Contractors must implement rigorous safety protocols and ensure that all workers adhere to them to minimize risks, and considering the thousands of little things that general contractors have to pay attention to on a job site, safety standards can often be lacking.

You can help ease the burden of safety standards by…well, setting a standard. If you establish a standard of strict safety on your job sites from day 1 of any project, your team will follow them. Remember, you’re the prism – the rest of the job follows your beam of light.

Any good general contractor knows that a culture of safety where all workers are aware of the risks and take proactive measures to mitigate them not only results in a safe workplace, it means less stress. 

Stay Calm And Fix The Problem

The one thing you can always, always, always do as a general contractor is stay calm and focus on solving the problem.

It doesn’t matter where the problem came from or who was involved or any of that – as a general contractor, you are there to put out fires first and foremost. And again, remember, you set the tone for your entire job site – so by keeping calm and focusing on solutions, you encourage the entire team to respond in kind.

Further Reading

The State of the Construction Industry – Construction Industry Federation

Weather Impact on Construction – National Weather Service

Global Construction Material Cost Index – World Bank

The Construction Labor Shortage: A Global Perspective – International Labor Organization

Construction Regulations and Compliance – Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Safety Standards in the Construction Industry – National Safety Council

Reinventing construction: A route to higher productivity – McKinsey & Company

Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: Overview – National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI)

International Construction Market Survey 2022 – Turner & Townsend

Job Openings and Labor Turnover – January 2023 – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Impact of Regulations on the Cost of Construction – National Association of Home Builders

Commonly Used Statistics – Occupational Safety and Health Administration

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