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CSI—Chapters, National, and Local Meetings—Needs More Contractors

By Ken Lambert, CSI posted 28 days ago

  

There is a CSI-Connect thread on this topic. Feel free to weigh in!

There is a longstanding and difficult question at most CSI regional and chapter meetings, which was mirrored at the recent National Conference: How do we get more members into CSI?

That is tough to answer, and I don’t plan on doing so in this one article. But I do want to offer at least one partial solution.

It is crystal clear that we as an AECO (Architecture, Engineering, Construction, and Owner) professional association) need to bring more contractors into the fold.

Though I am not working as a contractor now (I am Director of Industry Development and Technical Services at the International Masonry Institute), for about 13 years I did work as a contractor. 

Sometimes I worked for General Contractors (GC’s), and other years for commercial and large subcontractors. I was mainly a Project Manager.  So I am looking at this from that end of the table.

We all know that overall CSI has very few contractors that are members. National statistics say 15% of CSI members are contractors/ construction companies.

At the Nashville conference, only 6% of attendees were contractors.  Wow….

https://www.csiresources.org/blogs/peter-kray/2021/09/26/csi-national-conference-reunites-industry-puts-opp?CommunityKey=80c3b4dd-0d3f-4d4e-90f2-3bc6e4135dc2

It’s easy to say that we need more contractors as members. But the real question is: Why would they join? What can CSI specifically do for general contractors and/or subcontractors?

When I was a contractor, I did come to my share of CSI meetings. That is where I first learned about CSI.  

I went to a few NH and Boston meetings. And each time there was some practical and/or business development benefit to me being there, as a contractor.

I didn’t “need” to get an AIA LU on proper window flashing, but I did need to install it correctly on buildings, and I was liable for such. So, it benefitted me to learn what I could from designers and manufacturer representatives.

General contractors certainly want to meet with architects, and usually they will have some level of interest in nearly all the products reps and vendors.  Subcontractors may be a little harder to find a regular fit within CSI, especially those trade contractors that are not that large.

Product reps want to meet and speak with (and sell to) general contractors. Likewise, architects are typically open to learning about and meeting some new GCs/CMs.

For contractors (general and subs), their annual costs for joining some of the other industry groups is typically much higher than what the CSI annual dues are ($375), so I don’t feel that the entrance cost is a large barrier.

What do others think?  What have others already been doing? Is this branch of AEC a potential growth opportunity for the Construction Specifications Institute?

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As part of that 15% of members representing the “C” in “AECO” (electrical subcontracting, to be exact), from what I have seen there is greater interest in developing new methods to estimate and to build, but not so much in learning the delicate balance that exists between the processes of specification, product representation, and contract administration. I believe this is an issue of paradigm before it is anything to do with CSI in particular, as a contractor must commit to three steps:

1) Learn about said delicate balance and the roles of each party.

2) Find value in becoming aware and in researching/developing/learning ways to apply said awareness for better adaption and performance in their role of contractor.

3) Apply the newly learned ways and show improvement bridging the gap from Planned Value to Earned Value in order to justify the extra investment of effort up front.

Most every contracting professional I know is devoutly and primarily focused on the difficult tradeoff between schedule, cost, quality, safety/health, and environmental impact in the pure context of accomplishing value (to get paid!), though I would argue this results in failing to see the forest for looking at the trees. Considering ALL 5 aspects of construction-side project management I listed are affected by the specifier, the specified (or “the one with the approved submittal”), and the contract administrator, I would argue that the additional effort to integrate such understanding is undoubtedly worth it, but certainly this argument is more compelling when contractors are in a position to realize these benefits. For example, what I am talking about is a much less impactful idea on means and methods in the context of traditional DBB projects (I can speak to this first-hand). Perhaps CSI should target contractors with greater interest in Design-Assist/Design-Build/IPD/TVD/etc. as it should be easier to point out how they will benefit from a vested interest in receiving insight and guidance from CSI’s wealth of knowledge.