Subcontractor Vs. Independent Contractor

The salary and degree requirements for these construction positions are vastly different, but some of their daily tasks are similar. Learn more about the responsibilities, salaries, and growth of these careers, along with information about a few related jobs that may interest you.

Comparing Subcontractors to Independent Contractors

Independent contractors and subcontractors combine their skills while working on various building projects. The independent contractors, however, hold final responsibility and must keep one eye on the cost-effectiveness of the projects, since they are poised at the top of the hierarchy on a job site.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Subcontractors No formal education needed $32,230 13% (Construction Laborers and Helpers)
Independent Contractors Bachelor's Degree $89,300 5% (Construction Managers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Subcontractors vs. Independent Contractors

Both subcontractors and independent contractors are responsible for meeting the requests of a client. As independent contractors work on projects, they often bring in subcontractors to assist in parts of the jobs. Though they still remain liable for safety efforts on site, as well as holding their own signed contract, subcontractors are not directly hired by the client. On site, the independent contractor leads all crew members, but subcontractors often maintain the right to hire and fire people on their teams.


Subcontractors are hired to add additional expertise and assistance at a construction site. While assisting craftworkers with such things as the plumbing, electrical work, roofing, or siding, these professionals also must answer to an independent contractor. On the job, it is important that subcontractors follow building plans and the directions of the more experienced workers to ensure the construction is completed to the client's specifications. To do their work, they may have to operate heavy and often dangerous construction equipment, so knowledge of proper safety is necessary.

Job responsibilities of a subcontractor include:

  • Cleaning a site of deconstructed materials and other hazards
  • Laying subflooring, carpeting, and tile in homes and businesses
  • Filling in holes and leveling the area around a site
  • Unloading and handling materials and tools

Independent Contractors

Independent contractors, or general contractors, are self-employed and own their own construction business. They may build residential or public structures, including homes and bridges. First, they meet with the client to learn what the project will entail before bidding on the project, along with other qualified contractors. Once the client decides they want to hire them, contractors sign and negotiate payment and contracts. During the build, contractors may work with architects and engineers to make sure the structure meets legal and safety requirements.

Job responsibilities of an independent contractor include:

  • Finding raw materials and estimating costs of a project, which include labor
  • Agreeing on deadlines with the client and reporting progress and delays to the client
  • Hiring subcontractors and other skilled employees
  • Solving issues and setbacks that delay the project

Related Careers

If you're interested in a construction career as a subcontractor, you might want to check out the facts about becoming an architect, since both contribute to building homes and businesses. Similarly, if you're considering a future as an independent contractor, the profession of architectural engineer might also be of interest, because both of these careers are responsible for deep building and code knowledge.

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