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General Contractor: Job Outlook & Career Requirements

Learn about what education general contractors need to get started. Also, get information on job skills, salary and career data, along with other employment options related to contracting.

Job Description for a General Contractor

A general contractor hires and organizes all necessary workers for a construction job. He or she also provides materials, obtains necessary permits, schedule inspections, complies with all building codes and sees the project through to completion. General contractors get hired by estimating how much a project will cost to build overall and offering that estimate in the form of a bid to the persons or company who are paying for the project. General contractors who work on very large scale projects, such as high-rise buildings or civil projects, typically work as managers rather than direct laborers. Those involved in smaller, residential buildings or remodels may also provide many hours of hands-on labor.

Required Education No formal requirement, degree in construction science recommended
Necessary Skills Ability to read blueprints, understand construction basics and business management, supervision, mathematics, honesty
Median Salary (2018)* $93,370 (for all construction managers)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 11% (for all construction managers)

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

A general contractor may have learned his or her trade through a 2- or 4-year degree in construction science; however, no degree is necessary, and many general contractors began work as carpenters or skilled construction laborers. If contracting for more than minimal 'handy-man' type jobs, licensing is required in most states. Regulations vary but typically, obtaining a license requires that the applicant is over 18 years of age, has a current business license and can pass a contracting exam.

Job Skills

A general contractor should be able to read blueprints and understand the basics of construction. A general understanding of business management and the ability to supervise others will be necessary to work as a general contractor. Construction related math skills are needed to estimate time and materials. General contractors are often hired, or not, by their reputation so reliability and honesty are paramount.

Career and Economic Outlook

Because general contractors (often referred to as construction managers) are essentially small business owners, it is difficult to report an average income. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) projects that job opportunities for construction managers were expected to be faster than average (11% increase) from 2016-2026, and, in 2018, placed the median annual income of construction managers at $93,370. Licensed construction managers have a greater earning capacity due to their ability to take on larger, more prestigious jobs and build a favorable reputation.

Alternative Career Options

Some skills needed to become a general contractor will help prepare you for careers in other areas, including:

Cost Estimator

One of the tasks of a cost estimator is to study blueprints in order to establish estimates for a project. They work with architects and other construction-related workers in reviewing information that can save time and money. A bachelor's degree is commonly needed to enter this field. The number of jobs in this field was predicted to rise by 11% between 2016 and 2026, according to the BLS. In 2018, the median salary for cost estimators was $64,040.

Architect

In addition to licensure, architects need to complete an architecture program, some professional work experience and an exam. Among their many duties, architects visit worksites, design buildings and consult with clients. Per the BLS, the job growth was reported as 4% for architects in the 2016-2026 decade. Excluding those working in the landscape and naval categories, architects made a median salary of $79,380 in 2018.


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