Third Party Contractors in Your Community - A Money Pit?

October 22, 2021

How many projects in Northern and remote communities are done in the middle of winter, on frozen ground, during the toughest weather conditions?

Way too many.

When it comes to construction, many Northern communities end up hiring third party contractors to come in and do the job. Foundation installation, concrete work, and other projects are frequently given to companies from outside the community.

Problem is, these third party contractors often have no choice but to come up on winter using the ice roads. This results in unexpected expenses, bloated project budgets, last-minute scrambles, general chaos, and delays.

How did it get to this point - and can you avoid the cost of hiring third party contractors for your projects?

Third Party Contractors

Sometimes, remote communities don't have local contractors that possess the required skills for a project. This forces them to look outside their community, possibly hiring contractors that live hours away. This gets the job done, but there's several problems that come with hiring contractors from far outside the community. Some of these can be significant:

Scheduling

  • Third-party contractors will need to bring their own equipment, which means they'll need to travel on ice roads.
  • That means you're stuck waiting, possibly for months, until the roads open
  • Trying to coordinate a job that's reliant on ice roads also means that if there's problems with the road, the project will have expensive delays

Expense

  • Hiring third parties comes with several additional costs
  • Because they come up in winter, frozen ground creates extra expense and effort
  • Bringing crews and equipment long distances increases cost
  • You must factor in equipment breakdowns into the project
  • You're stuck budgeting for meals, per diems, overtime, and the accommodations for third-party staff

Understanding

  • Third-party contractors may not be familiar with working in remote communities.
  • They might not be aware of the special considerations that Northern communities require, due to extreme weather and soil conditions
  • This could lead to a project that won't last in the challenging environment of Northern Canada

Those aren't the only considerations when bringing in third-party contractors. But even this brief list gives you an idea of how rapidly problems and costs can build up when hiring far outside your community.

Truck On Ice Road Hauling Goods to Inuvik

Image credit: By Lusilier - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=109203518

(Image: Trucking hauling equipment over ice road to Inuvik. Ice roads are only open for a short time and are expensive to haul goods on.)

To be clear, I'm not saying that all third party contractors are bad people. Many of them are professional, well-intentioned, and excellent at their job. This isn't a question of whether or not third party contractors are good. It's a question of whether you could be better served by leveraging your own community.

The Alternative to Third Party Contractors

It's clear that bringing up third party contractors is not always the cost-effective way to get things done in your community.

So, what's the solution?

First, take stock of the skills you have in your community. You might be surprised that members of your community already have the base skills and aptitude needed. It could be you already have the right people in your community, they might just need some training or encouragement. Often our best resources are right next to us.

Second, assess where your community is lacking skills. Are there opportunities to train people in your own community with skills that fill your gaps? Consider skills that can be useful not only in your community, but in neighboring communities. By carefully building capacity and skillsets within, your community can generate independent economic development.

There's many ways to drive economic development and independence, but I'll use an example I'm familiar with: foundations.

You might wonder how learning to install foundations, like helical piles, can drive economic development. Here's the thing; in my 10+ years selling and installing foundations, I've noticed many remote communities hire third party contractors to do their foundation work.

Here's why this can be a big problem.

As we've established, bringing in third party contractors is expensive. But, when it comes to foundations, there's another pitfall to hiring outside foundation contractors.

They might use the wrong foundation.

Yes, this is a big problem. In fact, when it comes to buildings in Northern communities, it's one of the biggest problems in need of a solution. See, concrete foundations are frequently used in Northern and Indigenous communities. But concrete is not the best choice for these locations. To learn more about why, check out a blog post I wrote on the subject here. The short of it? Concrete struggles to perform in the brutal cold, long frosts, and tough soil of Northern Canada.

Instead of hiring third party contractors for foundation work, why not have the contractors in your community learn how to install foundations? Trust me, it's a straight-forward skill to learn that can offer your community:

  • Economic development opportunities
  • Better foundations for homes, community buildings, and other structures
  • More affordable foundations
  • Increased independence from third party contractors and companies
  • Control over how construction is done in the community
  • The ability to ensure the environment, land, and people are respected

At VersaPile we offer a program called First Foundations Collaboration that helps contractors in Northern communities learn how to install reliable helical pile foundations themselves. It trains people how the foundations work, how to install them, how to test them, and more. The goal is complete foundation independence for Northern and Indigenous communities. No more relying on third-party contractors for foundation work.

Increasing Your Resiliency and Independence

Of course, helical pile foundations are just one example of a skill your community can learn. There's far more to economic development than just knowing how to install foundations. My point is, it often ends up more cost-effective long-term to have people in your own community learn the skills you need. Perhaps most importantly, those skills increase the independence and resiliency of your community.

Image credit: By Lusilier - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=109203518

(Image: Indigenous contractors learning how to install helical pile foundations. Knowledge and skills are the two most valuable resources your community can invest in.)

By learning the skills that you'd otherwise have to hire for, you can:

  • Save money and create economic development by hiring people right in your community
  • Get the work done in summer, when the ground isn't frozen and hard
  • Use equipment you already own, instead of paying someone to bring their own equipment
  • Never have to budget accommodations and meals for third-party workers
  • Choose the products and techniques that are the right fit for your community
  • Get projects done faster and easier
  • Increase the independence and resiliency of your community

To Hire Third Party, Or Not?

There's no single "right answer" to the question of hiring third-party contractors. In certain cases, you might have no choice but to bring in external help. That's not always a bad thing - after all, we need each-other to thrive.

That said, it's my personal belief (and the belief of my company VersaPile) that Indigenous communities should be equipped to control the construction that happens on their lands. It's why we started the First Foundations Collaboration, and why we always encourage First Nations communities to build their own skills and increase their independence.

The more skills you can build up in your community, the more you can rely on yourselves to get the job done right - every time.

Curious about the First Foundations Collaboration and how it can train contractors in your community to become certified helical screw pile foundation installers? Click here to learn more!

 


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