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Contractor Career Information and Education Requirements

Contractors require little formal education. Learn about the training, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Contractors work in numerous trades and aside from having great leadership, mechanical and communication skills, they need formal education. While an apprenticeship is the most common, the level of training can vary and will depend on one's personal goals. In general, the career outlook for construction managers is estimated to be as fast as the national average.

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Essential Information

Contractors perform various duties on and around building and construction sites. A contractor can work in multiple fields as a general contractor or specialize in a particular trade, such as plumbing, masonry or painting. There are different educational paths to become a contractor. At the minimum, aspiring contractors must complete an apprenticeship or earn an associate's degree in construction science or a related field. While the need for contractors is highly dependent on the economy, job growth is predicted to increase at an above average rate.

Required Education Apprenticeship or associate's degree
Other Requirements Licensure for some projects; certification voluntary
Projected Job Growth* (2014-2024) 5% for construction managers
Median Salary* (2015) $87,400 for construction managers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Career Information for Contractors

A contractor is an individual who commits, or contracts, to a construction, demolition or renovation project. Construction contractors can enter this career field from a variety of educational and experiential backgrounds. They may work as general contractors, civil engineering contractors or specialty contractors.

General contractors are often responsible for entire construction projects and help to coordinate specialty contractors and workers who perform general construction duties like framing, insulation and planning. They usually work on building projects for commercial or residential use. Civil engineering contractors work on large projects like bridges, tunnels and sewers. Specialty contractors work in one specific area, like plumbing or cabinetry, of a construction project.

Career Outlook

The career outlook and salary for construction contractors can vary widely based on specialty or trade. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes contractors as construction managers. The BLS estimates 5% growth for the construction managers from 2014-2024, despite the fact that the construction industry was greatly harmed by the recession that started in 2007.

Construction jobs tend to ebb and wane with the economy and many contractors found themselves with little or no work during the 2007 recession. Despite this, the BLS elects growth, especially in specialty trades. A new emphasis on 'green' construction may also benefit contractors. The BLS reports the median annual salary for construction managers was $87,400 in 2015.

Education Requirements

Higher education is not needed for all contractor jobs, but it is typically required for advancement into management positions. Most construction contractor trades and unions have an apprenticeship or training program. Employees who don't have higher education can learn on the job via these programs. Even employees that do have some education might be required to complete an apprenticeship.

Construction contractors need to be proficient in math and English, have some safety training and may need to be licensed if a construction specialty requires it. Some employees may also take basic construction courses at community or technical colleges. Common degree programs for contractors include associate's degrees in construction science or bachelor's degrees in construction management.

Construction Science Degree Programs

Those wishing to get a formal contractor education can earn an associate's degree in construction science. Available at the associate's and bachelor's degree level, construction science programs teach students basic construction skills and prepare them for management positions. Students typically must complete a certain portion of hands-on training. Courses in a construction science degree program might include surveying, electrical systems, assemblages, physics and algebra.

Construction Management Degree Programs

Construction management degree programs help students understand the business side of construction. These programs are usually offered at the bachelor's degree level and students are able to complete general education courses in addition to construction management courses. Courses in a construction management degree program often include physics, calculus, estimating, construction materials and construction safety.

With a projected 5% job growth rate through 2024, there are good employment opportunities for those who wish to pursue a career as a contractor. It may be necessary to complete an apprenticeship for entry-level contractor positions, although a bachelor's degree is typically required for those who wish to advance to management.

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