Advocacy, Education and Representation for America’s Subcontractors

American Subcontractors Association (ASA)

Given that subcontractors are responsible for three-quarters of the construction activity that takes place in the United States, it makes sense that subcontractors would want to have the unified representation, advocacy, education, networking opportunities, resources and support of a national trade association.
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The American Subcontractors Association (ASA) has been doing just that for subcontractors and suppliers since it was founded in 1966. It has played a critical role in not only protecting the best interests of its members but advancing the industry as a whole.

On July 1, 2018, ASA elected new executive officers to one-year terms and board of directors to three-year terms. Courtney Little, president and general counsel of ACE Glass Construction, was elected president of the association, moving up from his previous post as vice president. He succeeds Jeff Banker of Banker Insulation.

Other new officers are Vice President Anthony Brooks of Platinum Drywall and Secretary/Treasurer Brian Cooper of AROK Inc. New board members include Paul Brennan of NAPCO Precast LLC, Gloria Hale of Hale Glass, Scott Holbrook of Crawford & Bangs, Ray Moya of Prime Electric Inc., and Rusty Plowman of Delta Drywall Inc.

President Little offered insight into ASA’s unique dynamic. “I’m a glass guy, and I’ll be sitting with a drywall installer, a painter, a steelworker, and an insulation guy, for instance, and we’ll start going through business, and a lot of our issues are the same, and that’s a great thing.” While there are trade-specific issues, members come together to tackle industry-wide issues that affect them all.

“We all have our own trade organizations where we talk about how to be the best glass guy, how to be the best drywall installer. When you come to ASA, you end up talking about how you are dealing with insurance things, or how you are negotiating your contracts. How do you assist your contractor with design? A lot of that stuff is very similar across the board,” said Little.

Little noted that, at ASA, the philosophy of ‘service before self’ rings true, and for the industry to thrive, industry leaders need to get involved. “What you give into this industry, you get back two- and three-fold, maybe even ten-fold because of the advice and the relationships you have. You don’t have paralysis by analysis. You don’t sit and wait for decisions to be made.”

The focus of this new group of industry leaders is like those before it. “It’s still the same kind of things that we’ve been working towards for years. You want payment protection, and you’re making sure you’re not waving your rights to payment or having to utilize legal measures to get paid,” Little explained.

“Trying to reduce retainage because, as you go down the line in a project, the subcontractors and vendors end up financing the project, and that’s not the best outcome. Not only is it not the best to get the smaller players financing it, but it brings the costs up because the costs of financing run the general cost of the project up.”

“If owners and people at the top level would bear that and pay on different terms, they can actually save money over time because they are bearing some of that risk,” he noted. “There’s been a lot of movement and legislation towards the identity and risk transfer to assure that subcontractors aren’t bearing a lot of the things they don’t have control over.”

“Where we dedicate our time and energy is educating our members on how to engage and contribute to their local legislatures, even to the federal legislature, so they know how to talk about what’s concerning to them,” said Little. With over 2,700 member companies and 4,700 individuals represented by ASA, it has had quite an impact.

“We’re just trying to design better programs and even legislate when necessary. If you have consistent policies and legislation, then it’s easier to assess risk and to keep things on a level playing field.”

Some of the ways it addresses the needs of its members are through initiatives like prompt payment legislation, contract and project management support and resources like ConsensusDocs, in which construction industry organizations collaborated to publish a comprehensive online catalog of forms and contracts.

ASA also hosts an annual national event, SUBExcel, which offers members and trade contractors an opportunity to come together to network, share ideas and develop solutions to the unique issues that are having an impact on the industry. The spring 2019 event will take place March 6-9, 2019, in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I think the biggest thing we’re trying to promote is that we’re trying to do peer groups – trade alliances – so that we can try to engage other trade groups and provide more education and advocacy to them and just membership growth in general. The more people you have together, the stronger your voice and the better feedback you have,” Little explained of SUBExcel.

Just because someone is strong at performing a trade, there is no guarantee that they have the business prowess to match. This is another reason the education component of what the ASA does is so important.

“A lot of people who are good at their trade don’t necessarily know how to be a good business person, and that’s where the disconnect is, and so we’re really going to try to fit in and try to pull in more diverse trades, different people and bring them in and give them business training,” said Little. This will be achieved through ‘lunch and learns’ and webinars.

ASA’s 2018-2019 Education Webinars Series begins in August and will focus on ways to help subcontractors remain competitive, mitigate and reduce risks and improve profitability. Topics range from marijuana use laws, electronic takeoff software solutions, taxation, insurance and project management issues, Lean construction, human resources, improving the change order process, reporting, the labor shortage, and much more.

The growth of ASA has been organic over the years, but a more comprehensive growth strategy is in the works, according to Little, as the organization looks to identify where the market is moving and how it can best offer value to its members.

“There will be some pretty steady growth over the next few years. We’re trying to partner up with some different people in the industry to provide some of that value and education that we have and they don’t, so you’ll see that the growth will speed up or have a faster pace the next few years than it has in the past,” explained Little.

Growing trade alliances will be paramount to achieving success in this, especially as the ASA hopes to double in size over the next five to ten years.

“The construction industry is very hot right now, and we all have the same problems with getting employees and best practices. We feel as we grow and engage more people, that would prove the industry as a whole, as better players in the field. That could do nothing but good, and as the economy is growing, we want to be a part of that success,” said Little.

ASA wants to understand how to engage the next generation of workers and communicate the advantages of a career in construction. “We are really trying to raise awareness about the opportunities but also the perks of the construction trade, so people growing up can look and say, that’s a pretty good living,” noted Little.

By maintaining a focus on advocacy, education and networking, the ASA will continue to have a positive impact on the industry, for its members, the industry, clients, and the public.

“I look forward to seeing what we can do when we work hard together, and I’m looking forward to seeing how our industry grows because, like I said, with the economy and the population growth, there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for contractors and trade partners for the foreseeable future,” explained Little. And ASA would be poised to take full advantage as those opportunities present themselves.

Little believes the industry is at a turning point, and as long as the ASA remains open, honest, transparent and committed to the mission, vision, and values of the organization, it will bring its positive message to the market, supported by a viable strategy to maximize the industry’s potential for its members and the industry alike.

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 14, 2019, 6:16 AM EST