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.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual average salary for a construction manager was $97,510. An associate's or bachelor's degree in construction management is often desired to become a general contractor. Experience is highly coveted. Depending on the position and type of construction, anywhere from two to seven years or more experience could be required. General contractors need to have good communication and decision-making skills. They must have good time management with ability to meet tight deadlines and personal initiative. Proficiency with spreadsheet software, such as Excel, and construction software, such as Timberline, is also important. Contractors also need to have knowledge of the latest construction technology, be able to read blueprints and technical drawings, and interpret contracts.
Steps to Becoming a General Contractor
There are four general steps to take to become a general contractor.
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, or 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, or AC, and the Certified Professional Contractor, or 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.
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.