How to Become a General Contractor

Learn how to become a general contractor. Research the education and career requirements, licensure and experience required for starting a career as a general contractor.

Should I Become a General Contractor?

General contractors, who may also be referred to as construction managers, oversee and coordinate construction projects from start to completion. They may work on residences or office structures, as well as on infrastructure projects such as bridges, roads, hospitals, or schools. Among a general contractor's responsibilities are managing the project budget, hiring and supervising contractors and laborers, choosing materials, keeping the project on schedule, problem solving, and coordinating with other project leaders such as engineers or architects. To make sure structures are legal, general contractors must understand and comply with all relevant safety codes and regulations.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's or bachelor's degree desireable
Degree Field Construction management
Certification Voluntary certification is desirable
Experience 2-7+ years of experience in the field, depending on the position and type of construction
Key Skills Communication, time management (with ability to meet tight deadlines), decision making, personal initiative; proficiency with spreadsheet software, such as Excel, and construction software, such as Timberline; knowledge of latest construction technology, read blueprints and technical drawings, interpret contracts
Salary $94,590 mean annual wage for a construction manager (2014)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Step 1: Earn an Associate's Degree

Those already working in the construction industry may find that having an associate's degree in construction management or construction technology could increase advancement opportunities. Associate's degree programs focus on topics like accounting, project scheduling, building codes and contracts. Students learn construction techniques such as roofing, finishing and framing. Instruction on how to read blueprints, estimate project costs, use construction tools and operate machinery is also important. An associate's degree in construction management may open the door to entry-level work in the industry and, after graduating, academic credits can often be transferred towards a bachelor's degree program later on.

Step 2: Get Management Experience

Working as an assistant to an experienced general contractor provides an on-the-job education that can help those new to the profession segue into management positions. Typical duties include overseeing purchasing orders, tracking permits, collecting documents and keeping general contractors informed of any problems.

Step 3: Obtain Certification

Though not required, being nationally certified demonstrates a general contractor's professional knowledge and skills. The Certified Construction Manager (CCM) credential is offered through the Construction Management Association of America. To earn this designation, applicants must complete a self-study course and pass a technical exam.

Additional certifications are available through the American Institute of Contractors. General contractors who meet the experience requirements can pursue the Associate Constructor (AC) and the Certified Professional Contractor (CPC) credentials.

Step 4: Get a Bachelor's Degree

Employers increasingly prefer general contractors with experience, as well as a bachelor's degree in a construction-related major, such as construction management, construction engineering or architecture. Programs in these majors provide training in construction, design and business, and also give students practical experience through internships. Specific topics may include construction materials, sustainability, surveying, blueprint reading, estimating, risk management and contracting.

Success Tips:

  • While in school, focus on sustainability and energy efficiency. The use of green technology is growing for both new construction and the retrofitting of already existing structures. This includes not only private construction but the nation's infrastructure of roads, sewers, bridges, airports and dams as well. General contractors who are well-versed in green technology could find good job opportunities waiting for them.

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