CREATING VALUE. REDUCING RISK.
WHERE DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION MEET.

First published and presented at GlassCon Global 2018, Chicago, IL October 6, 2018

Abstract

Every design and construction company strives to deliver quality services to their customers, and through a higher quality maintain an edge over their competitors. How are the qualifications assessed and who makes the hiring decision? Design firms have a decided advantage. Proposals are often a two-stage process: qualifications first, followed by technical and price proposals. Constructors, unless a Construction Manager (CM) or a General Contractor (GC), will rarely have the opportunity to be selected on qualifications as a first step.

Architects and engineers struggle trying to ensure that the installers and fabricators are qualified to perform the work required for particular projects. Specifications following The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) standard formats allow a place to specify qualifications for any participant in the construction process: installers, fabricators, engineers, test agencies, and more. But how are qualifications specified? What constitutes acceptable qualifications? And when are the qualifications decided?

This session will explore the qualification process and options design teams use and constructors must endure, and the inherent risk the owner assumes depending on when acceptable qualifications are determined. Learn how current commercial master specifications attempt to help specify qualifications, primarily for installers and fabricators using subjective and potentially irrelevant measures. Understand how independent third-party certification offers an alternative, for owners to demand, design teams to specify, and CMs and GCs to benefit, that provides a uniform measure of an industry accepted standard to demonstrate qualifications and the ability to reduce risk.

Keywords: Quality Assurance, Design Processes, Qualifications, Certification

1 Introduction

Every design and construction company strives to deliver quality services to their customers, and, through that higher quality, maintain an advantage over their competitors. How are the qualifications assessed and who makes the hiring decision? Design firms have a decided advantage. Proposals are often a two-stage process: qualifications first, followed by technical and price proposals. Installers proposing to a CM or a GC, will rarely have the opportunity to be selected on qualifications as the first step in the process.

Price is not the only consideration in making a purchasing decision, whether for goods and services, or for a construction contract. As consumers, we make comparisons daily about quality and cost whether visiting the local retailer or shopping at Amazon. How do we judge? We read the product label, check the physical appearance, examine the construction details, and judge the weight among other factors. We will consider the brand – the reputation of the manufacturer to produce quality products. Few of these attributes can be quantified. Most are subjective, derived from our own personal perception of the product from very limited information.

Sometimes we have help. Third party organizations can lend credibility to a particular product and help confirm the underlying quality. Products receiving recognition from third parties will proudly display the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, for instance. Recognitions such as these give credence that both the manufacturer and the specific product meet a minimum standard established by the organization awarding the recognition. These qualifications can substitute for the time and care required for personal evaluation.

Just as for manufacturers and products, independent, third-party certifications provide the same advantage to installers when offering bids to a CM or a GC, regardless if installer qualifications are specified. Installers can leverage certifications when submitting bids to demonstrate the installer is qualified by industry standards. A certification attached to the bid will set the bid apart and give the CM or GC a verifiable reason for more detailed consideration.

Certifications attesting quality can tip the scale for bidder selection, even if the price is not the least because time has greater value. CMs and GCs attempt to reduce risk to ensure successful completion while maintaining planned profits. Engaging certified installers ensures the installation will be performed in conformance with a quality management system designed to minimize errors, eliminate rework, complete on time, and make continuous process improvements. Assembling a construction team of installers committed to quality and maintaining a certification will minimize the CM and GC’s risk. Plus the owner can proactively reduce risk by requiring certified installers be engaged for all work where third-party certifications are available.

1.1 Construction Bids, Contacts, and Conditions

The industry relies on standard contract documents to request and secure construction services. The most common standard documents for architectural projects are published by the American Institute of Architects (AIA). These documents are:

  • AIA A701 (1997) Instructions to Bidders [1]
  • AIA A101 (2017) – Standard Form of Agreement between Owner and Contractor where the basis of payment is a Stipulated Sum [2]
  • AIA A401 (2017) Standard Form of Agreement between Contractor and Subcontractor [3]
  • AIA A201 (2017) – General Conditions of the Contract for Construction [4]

Other organizations such as ConsensusDocs, Design Build Institute of America (DBIA), and Engineers Joint Construction Documents Council (EJCDC) publish similar sets of documents. For purposes of this paper the focus will be on the AIA documents as the most predominate for architectural projects.

The instructions to bidders requires bidders, not subcontractors, to whom award of contract is under consideration by the owner to submit a qualifications statement on AIA Document A305 Contractor’s Qualifications Statement, when requested. This submission will happen before the owner awards the contract to demonstrate the bidder has the ability, capacity, and qualifications to complete the project.

Neither the owner-contractor agreement nor the contractor-subcontractor agreement address any requirements for subcontractor, installer, or fabricator qualifications. These requirements must be specified in the contract documents to be enforceable.

The conditions of the contract require the contractor to identify the principal subcontractors and suppliers and those furnishing materials or equipment fabricated to a special design for the project. There is no requirement for the contractor to furnish any qualifications statements, and no provision for the owner or architect to request such documentation for review.

Ҥ5.2 Award of Subcontracts and Other Contracts for Portions of the Work

5.2.1 Unless otherwise stated in the Contract Documents, the Contractor, as soon as practicable after award of the Contract, shall notify the Owner and Architect of the persons or entities proposed for each principal portion of the Work, including those who are to furnish materials or equipment fabricated to a special design. Within 14 days of the receipt of the information, the Architect may notify the Contractor whether the Owner or the Architect (1) has reasonable objection to any such proposed person or entity or (2) requires additional time for review. Failure of the Architect to provide notice within the 14-day period shall constitute notice of no reasonable objection.” [5]

The list of subcontractors must be submitted before the contractor engages any subcontractor. Therefore, the subcontractor is under no obligation to furnish any specified submittals, including qualifications statements before being awarded the contract. Assembling qualifications data is time-consuming and costly, especially if the contractor must collect qualifications statements from every named subcontractor and supplier. Plus, even if submitted, it is unlikely the owner and architect will have time to review all the data that may be submitted in the limited time allotted for review.

1.1.1 Owner/Architect Approval Point

Owners and architects have options for selecting both contractors and subcontractors. Occasionally a formal prequalification process is used to select contractors and even major subcontractors that will be invited to offer a bid for the project. Prequalification is especially helpful when there must be competitive bidding and the project requires a particular expertise to ensure success.

Contractors and subcontractors submit forms identifying many detailed aspects of their business including staff, equipment, plant, financial statements, and quality management plans to demonstrate qualifications. The type and detail of the submitted information is rarely consistent among all the constructors. So even with the data, effective evaluation is difficult. Owners or architects will select one, and usually several constructors considered qualified to participate in the bidding process. Contractors may be required or at least strongly recommended to use the prequalified subcontractors.

In private work, owners and architects may rely on the reputation and possibly prior experience with the CM or GC to determine who may bid the project. In public work, the constructors are evaluated based on the submitted bid. Subcontractors may be named with the bid or shortly after award of contract. The owner may reject any subcontractor, but must be prepared for the consequences of a project delay claim or an increased price, or both. Unless bidders are required to furnish subcontractor qualifications, the owner and architect evaluation may be on reputation or prior experience, only.

1.1.2 Specified Qualifications

Specifiers may require a selected installer by name at the beginning of PART 3 EXECUTION of the specifications sections. Then the qualifications are implicit by virtue of the named installers. This specifying option is rarely used because it compromises the CM or GC’s ability to assemble their optimal team to complete the project.

Instead, specifiers will include installer and fabricator qualifications requirements in PART 1 GENERAL of the specifications sections. Subcontractors may be fabricators or installers, or both as is the case for glaziers. So multiple requirements may apply.  As an example here is the template text used by AIA’s MasterSpec® for most glazed assemblies.

“PART 1 GENERAL

1.X          QUALIFICATION

A. Installer Qualifications: An entity that employs installers and supervisors who are trained and approved by manufacturer.” [6]

For specifications related to glaziers, MasterSpec includes installer qualifications only. The requirement is curious. Expecting that manufacturers will train and approve individuals from each glazier throughout the country is unrealistic. Expecting that installers will send their staff to be trained by each of many manufacturers of glazed systems is even more unrealistic. Enforcing these requirements will be impossible.

These requirements may be the only information installers receive from the CM or GC. However, additional requirements apply, especially those contained within Division 01 – General Requirements.

Division 01 expands the requirements of the agreement and conditions of contract and may add definitions that apply to the entire set of specifications. The terms “qualified” and “experienced” as they relate to installer qualifications are often defined in Division 01. So, the seemingly innocuous requirement above takes on greater importance when coupled with these definitions. Remember the specifications must be read as the whole, not as an independent specification section related to a specific work result.

MasterSpec defines “experienced” and includes general requirements for both fabricator and installer qualifications in Specification Section 014000 [7] to help establish overall qualifications criteria.

“Experienced: When used with an entity or individual, “experienced” unless otherwise further described means having successfully completed a minimum of [five] <Insert number> previous projects similar in nature, size, and extent to this Project; being familiar with special requirements indicated; and having complied with requirements of authorities having jurisdiction.

Fabricator Qualifications: A firm experienced in producing products similar to those indicated for this Project and with a record of successful in-service performance, as well as sufficient production capacity to produce required units.

Installer Qualifications: A firm or individual experienced in installing, erecting, applying, or assembling work similar in material, design, and extent to that indicated for this Project, whose work has resulted in construction with a record of successful in-service performance.”

None of these criteria can be measured. There is no definition of what “successful” means. Without that definition, the architect and owner’s determination of what constitutes successful completion and successful in-service performance remains subjective. These terms are nebulous and unenforceable as a contract requirement.

The root of the successes, by these requirements, is completely eschewed. Certainly, the crew installing a previous project will not be the identical crew installing a future project. The products may be different. The details will be different. The transitions and interfaces will be different. There is no requirement for a quality management system to ensure processes are in place to produce consistent performance from one project to the next. Even if one project is “successful,” there is no guarantee that success will be carried forward to future projects, especially when the installer lacks a quality management system.

1.1.3 Qualifications Basis

Specifiers have little basis for establishing installer and fabricator qualifications. The primary requirement is usually experience, defined by years in business and years performing similar work. For public work in some jurisdictions, years of experience is not permitted as a criterion for establishing qualifications. In these locales, there must be other data required to demonstrate the qualifications.

Installers and fabricators may be required to list recently completed similar projects and to list references for the completed work, usually naming a representative for the owner of the completed work. Completed work can be inspected, if need be, but the projects may not be local, making such inspections impractical. The owner’s representative may not have detailed knowledge of the installer and fabricator’s specific project performance because the exposure is only to field personnel. Yet, home office and shop operations may play the most vital role to ensure the right product is available, in the right quantity, in the right sequence, and at the right time.

Installers and fabricators may be required to furnish a quality assurance plan as evidence of established processes with checks to ensure compliance. Established and enforced quality plans are good indicators that the subcontractor’s work results will meet the project needs and contribute to the project success.  Even if required as a submittal, the architect and owner are not in a position to determine if a subcontractor’s quality plan will be effective.

Specifying the right qualifications to ensure success is not easy.

1.1.4 What and Who Are Actually Qualified

There are many participants at many different levels as part of a construction contract. When installer and fabricator qualifications are specified, to what or whom do they apply? The list can be exhaustive. Here is a small sampling.

  • Business entity
  • Individual craftsmen
  • Office operations
  • Shop operations
  • Field operations

Certainly if the business entity is deemed qualified, that qualification does not necessarily apply equally to individual craftsmen. The business will employ superintendents and foremen directly, but not necessarily all the craftsmen required to complete the project. Likewise, the business qualifications may not apply equally to home office, shop, and field operations. The focus for evaluation is often the completed work produced by the field crew, but is not necessarily representative of the entire organization. To establish a firm’s qualifications, fully, perhaps each of these aspects must be qualified in addition to the overall business entity.

1.1.5 Measuring Qualifications

Measuring qualifications is difficult because most measures are subjective. A quantitative test does not exist. Even if it did, there is no guarantee. Performance on previous projects can serve as an indication of qualifications to maintain a desired quality level for work results. Establish the test and test criteria. Perform the test and measure the result. Pass-Fail. Pass is good, and Fail is not, except when the result is not indicative of all work results. Tests measure a specific result, from a test performed at a specific time on a specific sample. Tests are only indicative that the same result is probable, but only when there are processes in place to ensure repetition to produce the same result consistently.

When qualifications evaluation criteria are not specified, the installers and fabricators will not know what evidence is required to show compliance. Likewise, the owner and architect will have no guidance for acceptance or rejection. Will similar, but smaller completed projects be acceptable? Will larger, but less complex projects demonstrate adequate qualifications? Finding multiple recently completed examples that closely align in all aspects with the current project is highly unlikely.

This makes the entire process nebulous and risky for both the owner and the subcontractor. The owner already accepted the contractor’s price based on the proposed subcontractor. The subcontractor already expended time and resources, to respond during the bidding process, believing the qualifications would be acceptable, but without any assurance.

1.1.6 Specified Submittals

Submittals are specified in Part 1 General near the start of each specification, before the qualifications requirements discussed above. Submittals may be specified in a single article or split into two or more articles. Most often qualifications submittals are specified as an informational submittal that does not require approval by the architect. The architect’s review is simply to ensure that the proper information is provided to substantiate the specified requirements.

“PART 1 GENERAL

1.X          [INFORMATIONAL] SUBMITTALS

A. Qualification Data: For [Installer] [Applicator] [manufacturer] [fabricator] [testing agency] [factory-authorized service representative] <Insert entity or specialist>.” [8]

Note in the MasterSpec example above that the type of data required is not identified. The Division 01 provisions discussed above sill apply. The submission is left to the discretion of the subcontractor making the submittal, unless the specifier elaborates on these requirements.

Because qualifications submittals are considered informational, the review must only confirm the appropriate data was furnished and that it shows compliance with the contract. Does the submittal name the correct number of similar projects, identify required references, and show the requisite years of experience. Provided the submittal contains the requested information, the submittal will be acceptable. The submittal is not intended to provide cause to reject the subcontractor as unqualified. There is no provision for the architect to reject the installer or fabricator based on the submitted qualifications. This opportunity is only available before the contractor engages the subcontractor. Collecting qualifications information as a contract submittal provides no value.

1.1.7 Certification – Dilemma Solved

For years, the construction industry has relied on certifications as a quality measure for contractors and installers. The industrial painters have The Society for Protective Coatings (SSPC) certification program, welders have the American Welding Society (AWS) certification program, firestopping installers have the Firestop Contractors International Association (FCIA) certification program. There are more.

Now, for glazing contractors, there is a simple solution to demonstrate qualifications, effectively and efficiently. In 2016, the North American Contractor Certification (NACC) Program began certifying glazing contractors. See www.naccprogram.com. The certification is formally accredited through third-party American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in accordance with ISO/IEC 17065:2012, an international standard for bodies certifying products, processes, and services and is open to all glazing contractors – union, non-union, and open-shop.

Certification indicates compliance with industry accepted good practices for successful architectural glass and metal fabrication and installation. The practices were established by an advisory board consisting of glazing contractors and industry subject matter experts. The program uses both mandatory and scored requirements to evaluate business practices, safety, quality, contract administrative processes, and glazing processes. Contractors must provide evidence of compliance either by written documents or by auditor observation. Once certified, contractors are audited annually to ensure continuous compliance with the certification program requirements and to encourage continuous improvement on scored requirements.

The NACC certification is subdivided into multiple categories to allow contractors to be certified for each of multiple designated industry categories. These categories include:

  • Interior and Entry Systems Glass
  • Low Rise Building Envelope
  • High Rise Building Envelope
  • Active Glass

NACC Certified contractors are required to abide by a Code of Ethics, applicable to the standards established by the Certification program. The contractor’s Code of Ethics, just like those for architects and engineers, gives assurance that the business and its employees will behave in certain, predictable ways outlined by the code.

Now specifying glazer qualification is simplified. Just insert the following into the appropriate location in Part 1 – General of the specifications related to glazed assemblies. Include the bracketed editing options where deemed necessary for competitive bidding purposes.

1.X          SUBMITTALS

A. Qualifications: NACC Certificate [or written quality management system].

1.X          QUALIFICATIONS

A. Installer Qualifications: NACC Certified [or entity with written quality management system, approved by business owner, documenting home office, shop, and field procedures and operations to ensure compliance with Contract requirements].

B. Fabricator Qualifications: Product installer.

Specifiers, architects, and owners can specify glazer installer and fabricator qualifications, easily. Simply require NACC Certification. Certified subcontractors can demonstrate qualifications by simply submitting their certificate with every bid. Current certification status is easily verifiable via the program website. Contractors, architects and owners can rely on the certificate as evidence the subcontractor is highly qualified and capable of producing the work results for the certificate’s designated industry categories.  Non-certified installers can still compete, but it must be on a basis of a commitment to quality through a formal quality management system.

So what advantage does certification bring?

For Owners, Designers, CMs and GCs:

  • Specifications are simplified. Installer Qualifications: NACC Certified.
  • Enforcement is simplified. Examine the submitted certificate.
  • Risk is reduced. Quality management systems minimize errors and encourage continuous improvement.

For Glazing Installers:

  • Risk is reduced. Quality management systems minimize errors and encourage continuous improvement.
  • Risk management is simplified. Follow established quality management system used to attain certification.
  • Compliance costs are reduced. Maintain a single certificate to demonstrate qualifications.
  • Brand is enhanced. Proudly display the certification logo.
  • Now, if only other construction industries made establishing qualifications so easy…

References

[1] American Institute of Architects: AIA Document A701, Instructions to Bidders, 1997.

[2] American Institute of Architects: AIA Document A101, Standard Form of Agreement between Owner and Contractor where the basis of payment is a Stipulated Sum, 2017.

[3] American Institute of Architects: AIA Document A401, Standard Form of Agreement between Contractor and Subcontractor, 2017.

[4] American Institute of Architects: AIA Document A201, General Conditions of the Contract for Construction, 2017.

[5] American Institute of Architects: AIA Document A201, General Conditions of the Contract for Construction, 2017.

[6] American Institute of Architects: MasterSpec – Full Length Template, 2012.

[7] American Institute of Architects: MasterSpec Full Length – Section 014000 – Quality Requirements, 2015.

[8] American Institute of Architects: MasterSpec – Full Length Template, 2012.