Construction Trades: Specific Trade Education for Contractors

Training in construction typically covers different, specialized topics depending on the area of concentration. Find out about the requirements of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for construction graduates.

Some professionals in the construction trades are required to have formal training. A construction manager needs a bachelor's degree in construction management or civil engineering, while carpenters, plumbers and electricians must complete apprenticeships and obtain their license. Painters can learn through an apprenticeship, but certification is optional.

Essential Information

Contractors are involved with the building and maintaining of a variety of structures, including residential homes, commercial buildings, roads and bridges. Many contractors specialize in a specific part of the construction process. Formal training may or may not be necessary for a specific trade.

Career Titles Construction Manager Carpenter Painter Plumber Electrician
Required Education Bachelor's degree High school diploma None High school diploma High school diploma
Other Requirements Certification is optional but recommended Apprenticeship Apprenticeship, optional certification Apprenticeship, licensure Apprenticeship, licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 5% 6% 7% 12% 14%
Median Salary (2015)* $87,400 $42,090 $36,580 $50,620 $51,880

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Contractor Trade Overview

Contractors often enter the field by performing trade labor at the beginners' level, such as through an apprenticeship. This allows them to gain a hands-on understanding of the processes involved in construction, installation and repair so that they can later make informed decisions about every element of the projects they're managing.

There are three types of contractors: heavy and civil engineering construction contractors, general contractors and specialty trade contractors. Physical strength and stamina are typically necessary to work in one of these roles. Overtime, evening and holiday work is commonplace in the construction industry. Weather conditions may impact work schedules. Safety is paramount for construction workers because of the unstable conditions of most construction sites.

Educational Requirements

Formal training and education may be helpful for becoming a contractor, but not all employers require candidates to have it. Those with a degree in a relevant field, such as construction management or civil engineering, may earn advancement sooner than their non-degree competition. Many individuals who are interested in contracting learn the skills of the trade through hands-on training and working on a construction site. Many construction contractors gain their skills through apprenticeship programs sponsored by local companies, trade associations and trade unions.

Aspiring contractors do need to complete licensing courses, testing and continuing education, but the specifics vary by state and classification. Candidates typically need four years' experience and a minimum age of 18 years old. Topics that tests explore may include labor laws and regulations, project management and building codes.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Building Inspection
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  • Construction Mgmt, General
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Career Options

Contractors may be called in by a company or individual to perform a job on a one-time or continuing basis. Below are some specific types of contractors.

Construction Manager

Construction managers are in charge of the planning and organization of a construction project. They are also in charge of personnel management, such as hiring and overseeing other types of contractors. 40% were self-employed as of 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).


Carpenters make things out of wood, such as building frames. They may also do cabinet installation and house siding or build structures within a building, such as doorways and staircases. Carpenters may specialize in residential, commercial or industrial settings.


Painters paint buildings, bridges and other structures. Painters may specialize in new construction or maintenance of older construction. Painters generally need to be physically capable in order to reach the structures they need to paint.


Plumbers are in charge of the pipes and other conduits that carry water, gas and sewage. They may also install things like sinks and toilets, or appliances such as dishwashers. Plumbers often work nights and weekends and are on-call to deal with emergencies.


Electricians are in charge of the wiring in a building, which controls power, communications and lighting. They install, repair and maintain these systems. Electricians may be expected to work nights and weekends, as well as overtime.

Job and Salary Outlook for Contractors and Tradesmen

As expected, job growth for contractors and tradesmen varies depending on the type of trade. For instance, the BLS predicts that job growth for construction managers was expected to be 5%, carpenters 6%, painters 7%, plumbers 12%, and electricians 14%, all during the 2014-2024 decade. According to the BLS, salaries range widely, with average rates for helper positions at around $13.40-13.70 per hour, and management earning over $42 an hour in 2015.

Entry-level jobs in the construction trades include being a carpenter's helper or a plumber's helper. These jobs can provide experience to individuals considering or beginning an apprenticeship in those fields. Painters, plumbers, electricians and carpenters must all complete an apprenticeship, while construction managers are required to have a bachelor's degree.

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