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No fun being a contractor anymore

October 17, 2013

1. Typical contractor’s life is not elite anymore. Despite the Audis and BMWs…

  • The respect and reputation once enjoyed by civil engineer run construction companies are now shifting to PMCs
  • It is assumed your product would be the worst possible
  • Most of those who know the problems you face create all the safeguards in contracting to protect themselves, against you, assuming you are scheming

2. Every side you are dealing with expects you to bear their costs and expectations:

  • Labour force expects you to pay them more
  • Client expects to pay you less
  • The designer wants you to carry out their wishes
  • Other professionals e.g. services, lighting or landscape designer, are either ordering you around or questioning your performance
  • The project management peeps want to prove their worth by cutting down on project cost, and so, are ever trying to find ways to shrink areas open for profit
  • Third Party Inspectors are ever calling your bills inflated, or your work substandard

3.  You are dealing with the severest pressure to complete the work

  • All delay and time lost at all other stages of the project planning is supposed to be rectified at execution stage
  • You have the most unskilled and unorganised bunch of folks at your disposal to do that work
  • You need a lot of money upfront to carry out the work – because most people have not heard of mobilisation advance, certainly not of timely payment – excepting your daily wagers
  • Huge capacities are required on your side – It’s not easy to pack up and just leave once the work begins

4. Most big projects will be decided based on, or negotiated to, the lowest quote – even where technical competence/ good quality work is a prerequisite

  • So you are expected to complete on your (high) quality but compete on the quality of the lowest bidder
  • Governments are increasingly adding the clause of no extra payment to the contracts, but there is almost always extra work
  • Even the contracts which are fair to begin with turn into financial nightmares because of delays, not always from your side
  • The line between what may be termed reasonable and beyond reasonable time is blurred, and so the revisions are not easy to come by

5. Your calculated profit is very often punctured

  • There are almost always delays and extra work.  Time is a cost and the prices rise and rise:
    • Now, you are expected to absorb the cost of occasional whims within the same price – when earlier, extra work was where you made your money when the quote had to be competitive
    • You are expected to charge only on the work finished – No one wants to pay for delays caused on their side
  • The work that you are doing is not always guaranteed to be paid up, tempting you to plan it in such a way that you can’t be shown the door abruptly. This is the enemy of doing the right thing
  • Often the last payment won’t come – and it doesn’t surprise you anymore

6. The shadyness in this profession is mind boggling

  • If you are dealing with land, the laws are over a century old, and you get to see the worst of government bureaucracy and legal system in your course of work
  • The paperwork is a mess, and the land ownership status, permissions and transactions are grey at best of times
  • There’s more black money finding its way in your profession than anywhere else
  • Use of force is common. Squatters and forceful occupiers, as well as those who are required to remove them by using force, are invariable parts of the game

7. It’s not a great world you inhabit, being treated as a scum and/ or a meal ticket

  • In a government contract, nearly everyone involved wants you to pay them a percentage
  • In a corporate set up, either the sleaze is the same or more than in a government project
  • The individual client is in no doubt that you are ripping her/ him off, and so is weary of trusting you
  • The only people you can exploit are poor. The most money you can make is by pinching on the safety and benefits of the unorganised and poor workers

8. Your payoffs go beyond the work even when you are expected to charge only for work

  • In order to survive and prosper, you ought to keep an open mind towards cops, politicians and their relations, local government officials, unions, naxalites and local gangs
  • Because the work deals with materials, stealing and associated worries are yours to deal with
  • Designers/ other consultants are often expecting a cut from you – to make up for the money the client refused to pay them, or out of plain greed
  • Money is required to be poured to clear your pending dues – something the Government Schedule of Rates doesn’t account for

9. This is after the already high social costs

  • Praise is difficult to come by
  • It is a crude profession, many people you’d spend your time with are rough at edges and low on sophistication
  • People are pleasantly surprised, and never miss pointing out the fact, if you turn out to be educated or articulate
  • Those who dig you are after your money and what it can buy

So you are expected to, and blamed if you do not, deliver the best quality work. This is fair to expect, except that all the others don’t keep their end of the bargain. It is very difficult to have a long term perspective on things if everything is so hurried and unorganised. Things are not always formal, and when they are, the burden of paperwork is truly depressing. Tweaking a famous saying, ‘it’s not that being a contractor corrupts, but it sure attracts the corruptible’. So either you are not nice, or the world you’re in is not nice. You are required to forgo your respect for a legit, honourable and transperant society and the law of the land if you have to make decent money. Those who know the problems don’t want to address them, and nobody wants to pay for them. The way things are, it has severe constraints and great temptations. In this aspect, this profession is the same as a business. It basically needs people who can swim in murky waters.  This often throws out the good within you. And it’s not fun anymore.

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