How Do I Become a Contractor in the U.S.

Find out how to become a contractor. Research the training requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in contracting.

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Should I Become a U.S. Contractor?

Contractors, also known as general contractors or construction managers, oversee and manage building projects. Travel between multiple work sites might be involved, as well as working outdoors in various types of weather conditions. Stress levels might be high when deadlines approach or emergency situations arise.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree preferred; associate's degree may suffice
Degree Field Architecture, engineering, construction management or construction science
Experience Several years of work experience necessary; apprenticeships and cooperative education programs are available
Licensing and Certification Professional certification is available; licensing depends on state and local law
Key Skills Management, negotiation and problem-solving skills, ability to work with database, architecture and presentation software
Salary (2015) $60,585 per year (median annual salary for general contractors)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online, State and local licensing websites, Payscale.com

Step 1: Get an Undergraduate Degree

While some people become construction managers or general contractors with an associate's degree, industry trends point toward a bachelor's degree as being the most appropriate credential for this field. Individuals have a choice of majors, with some choosing architecture, engineering, or construction-specific disciplines. These programs will include courses in building codes and standards, design, project control and management, construction methods and materials, cost estimation, and contract administration. Courses in mathematics and statistics may also be needed.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship while in school. Internships help individuals learn more about their chosen field and give them real job experience, in this case with constructions projects, which can be useful after completing their degree.

Step 2: Get Work Experience

New graduates should apply for work in the building industry, since work experience is important to becoming a general contractor. Individuals interested in construction management may be hired as assistants to construction managers before being allowed to manage independently.

Success Tip:

  • Consider an apprenticeship. Formal apprenticeships in the building trades can help an aspiring contractor get in-depth experience in construction. Apprenticeships can take about four years, and participants are paid during the program.

Step 3: Get Licensed

Some states and municipalities require contractors to be licensed. There are sometimes separate licenses for commercial and residential contracting, and licensing qualifications can vary significantly. Contractors may have to pass a licensing exam or document their work experience before receiving a license.

Success Tip:

  • Check license renewal requirements. Some areas require contractors to complete continuing education courses as a condition of license renewal. State licensing boards usually provide renewal information on their websites along with guidance in finding sources of continuing education.

Step 4: Consider Professional Certification

Contractors may find that earning certification enhances their professional reputation. Three examples include the Associate Constructor (AC), the Certified Construction Manager (CCM) and the Certified Professional Constructor (CPC) designations. Certifications generally require their recipients to pass a qualifying exam and, as with licensing, may require evidence of work experience.

Step 5: Career Advancement Opportunities

General contractor's advancement opportunities depend largely on experience and education. Contractors who have experience, a bachelor's degree, and professional certifications or licenses may have more opportunities. Some of the advancement positions might include, project manager, senior manager, and CEO or company owner.

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