Millwrights Vs. Construction Contractors: What's the Difference?

While millwrights and construction contractors both work in the construction industry, the occupations differ in education and job duties. The primary difference is that millwrights deal primarily with operating heavy machinery and construction contractors are tasked with the building process and ensuring that a project is completed on time.

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When choosing between a job as a millwright and a construction contractor, it can be helpful to consider factors like job duties, educational requirements, job outlook and salary.

Millwrights vs Construction Contractors

There are a variety of differences between millwrights and construction contractors. In general, millwrights are responsible for installing, dismantling and moving heavy machinery and other equipment. Meanwhile, construction contractors (sometimes called construction managers) oversee the building of residential, commercial and government buildings, highways, waste management systems and other infrastructure projects.

Millwrights

Millwrights often work at construction sites unloading arriving machinery, inspecting it for damage and setting it up in the needed position. They work with contractors to determine where the machinery will be placed for the optimum efficiency. Millwrights are responsible for building foundation pads for heavy machinery, so they must know the weight-bearing capacity and size. Millwrights must be able to read blueprints and work with precision measuring instruments.

Education Requirements

Millwrights learn the trade through on-the-job training or a 3-4-year apprenticeship program, which combines paid on-the-job training and classroom education. The BLS noted that training must equal 2,000 practical and 144 classroom hours. Millwrights may also complete an associate's degree program in industrial maintenance. Coursework trains prospective millwrights in topics such as:

  • Electrical principles
  • Hydraulics
  • Industrial rigging
  • Blueprint reading
  • Fabrication

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Contractors

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), construction contractors generally specialize in one area of construction, such as residential or commercial. In the building process, a construction contractor hires subcontractors to do specialized work on a construction project, such as electrical, plumbing, carpentry or painting. It is also the construction contractor's responsibility to ensure that a construction project is completed on time, to specifications and within budget constraints.

Education Requirements

An undergraduate degree is required for a job as a construction contractor. The BLS reported that an associate's degree and the appropriate amount of experience could be acceptable for small construction projects, but a bachelor's degree is often needed to work for large companies. Completing an internship under the supervision of a construction manager can be beneficial.

Undergraduate major options can include building science, engineering, construction management, architecture or construction science. In bachelor's degree programs in construction management, some of the career-specific topics of study include:

  • Construction contract documents
  • Environmental and mechanical systems for buildings
  • Commercial design
  • Construction finance
  • Estimation and bid preparation
  • Construction materials
  • Construction surveying
  • Project management

Job Outlook and Salary Information

Job opportunities for millwrights were expected to increase faster than average at 15% from 2014 to 2024, while construction managers, including construction contractors, were expected to see a 5% increase during the same decade, according to the BLS. Even though industry and construction is cutting the cost of doing business, millwrights will be needed during downtime to move, install and set up new machinery. Contractors should seek education, licensure and certification to increase job opportunities, according to BLS.

The income differences between millwrights and construction contractors is roughly $37,000. Per the BLS, the median salary for millwrights was $52,440 as of May 2016. In the same year, construction managers earned a median annual income of $89,300. Construction managers employed in the metal product manufacturing industries made the most money; millwrights could earn more income working in motor vehicle manufacturing.

Although millwrights and contractors both may find work on construction sites and in the manufacturing industry, contractors need more education and tend to have greater responsibilities, while millwrights do more manual labor.

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