Subcontractor Licensing, Credentialing and Certification Information

Subcontractors generally specialize in one area of construction, such as electrical and plumbing installation or masonry. In some states these construction professionals must hold the proper credentials to be employed. Read this article to find out what licenses or certifications may be required.

What Are Subcontractor Credentials?

General contractors who oversee a construction project hire independent subcontractors to do specialized work. Most state departments regulating the construction trade require general contractors and some subcontractors to prove their training and expertise. After doing so, applicants often receive credentials (certification or licensure) that allow them to legally practice their trade.

Subcontractors that must be licensed or certified to practice their trade include plumbers, electricians and masons. Subcontractors that do not need licensure or certification include painters, carpenters and drywall hangers.

What Licenses or Certifications Are Required?

Each state has specific guidelines for the licensing or certification of plumbers, electricians and masons, which often include minimum experience requirements and passing scores on a written exam in their specialty area. For example, in some states a masonry subcontractor must take a masonry contractor examination. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that licensure or certification requirements for electricians may include up to 2,000 hours of practical experience and 144 hours of instruction in an apprenticeship training program. Exams may be required of electricians who work with high voltage.

Subcontractors who install residential or commercial plumbing may need up to two years of experience to be eligible for their trade examination. Requirements can vary based on whether a plumber seeks certification or licensure in residential, irrigation or backflow specialties. Those who are qualified to work in all plumbing specialties are often called journeyman plumbers. Per the BLS, they may need up to 2,000 hours of work experience to receive this credential. Subcontractors in all trades who work with hazardous materials, such as asbestos, must complete hazardous materials training programs.

What is the Job Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), specialty trades subcontractors were projected to have the largest job growth in the construction industry because they can repair and remodel finished homes and commercial properties as well as building new structures ( The rate of employment growth varies over the industry due to the large variety of specializations. Overall, a growth rate of 22% was projected by the BLS for construction trades workers during the 2012-2022 decade.

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