There is something to be said for expertise, or, to put it another way, there is something to be said for admitting that you are not the best at doing everything. Because of this, it is always best to ensure that the work you need done is done by someone who does know what they’re doing and whose work is reliable and trustworthy. Still, in a complex business environment, there is no such thing as “just having a specialist do something”, which is where today’s word subcontractor comes into play.
Simply defined as ‘a person who or a company which undertakes work under a subcontract’, subcontractors are, usually, the people who take care of the specialised works of a larger project.
Coming from a combination of the Latin prefix sub, meaning ‘under’, and the Late Latin contractor, which simply means ‘one who enters into a contract’, today’s word, in a general sense, simply means someone who is under the entity, who enters into a contract; however, in a more realistic sense, a subcontractor is a specialist who is contractually employed by a general contractor for specific works as part of a larger project.
The first mention of this word is found in Colonel Landon Carter’s diary of colonial American life, where, on April 7, 1776, Carter mentions: “I also sold to Griffin Garland, the under contractor, two beaves more.”
Typically, subcontractors are easiest to explain as well as identify in the construction industry, where a general contractor on a build site may subcontract to a specific company to do the plumbing work, electrical work, or even lay carpet in a buildin. Where international construction contracts often contain provisions which oblige the main contractor to engage subcontractors that have been pre-selected by the client, and those are the so-known nominated subcontractors.
However, due to an ever-increasing desire for speed and expertise in a global environment, the concept of subcontracting now affects many more aspects of our lives. For example, instead of dealing with their own credit accounts, many businesses find it easier to subcontract a business that specialises in credit accounts, such as MasterCard, Visa, or even a third party, like Synchrony Financial; moreover, in the age of privacy and data theft, many companies, realising that they don’t have the capability or experience to effectively guard their own data, are subcontracting data protection and cybersecurity to the likes of IBM, Raytheon, Mimecast, or Cisco.
Finally, in an odd and interesting twist, due to the economics of business and the nature of specialised work, with more than 35% of the US workforce now classified as freelancers, it also seems as if we, ourselves, are becoming subcontractors.