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How to Become a Contractor: Education and Career Roadmap

The steps to become a contractor generally consist of education, experience/training, and professional certification. Here we discuss how to become a contractor in more detail, as well as a brief overview of the career.

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How to Become a General Contractor

General contractors are typically responsible for planning and overseeing the construction of an array of different construction projects. They usually need to work closely with a range of construction professionals, including engineers and architects. Most general contractors, also called construction managers or project managers, work full-time and need to be available around the clock to handle any emergencies and problems. Those interested in how to become a contractor need the following:

  • Schooling
  • Experience
  • Training
  • Certification

Let's explore these requirements in more detail.

Steps to Become a Contractor

Step 1: Earn a College Degree

Students can choose one of several education pathways to become a general contractor. While some contractors may only need a high school diploma and work experience, it is becoming more common for these professionals to need postsecondary education.

At the postsecondary level there are a variety of options, including online general contractor courses, as well as online construction certificates and general contractor bachelor's and master's programs. More and more construction managers are choosing to earn a degree in subjects like:

  • Construction management
  • Construction engineering
  • Architecture
  • Building science
  • Construction science

Degree programs may offer students the following types of courses:

  • Construction estimating
  • Construction contracts
  • Construction techniques
  • Construction scheduling
  • Ethics
  • Construction project management

Step 2: Gain Construction Experience

While the amount of construction experience may vary based on position and level of education, experience in the field is usually required or preferred. General contractors with less education may become experienced by working in a particular specialty area of construction, such as masonry or carpentry, or as other construction laborers. In addition to working various construction jobs, those who pursue a postsecondary degree may gain hands-on experience through cooperative education programs and/or internship opportunities.

Step 3: Complete Training

Although self-employed general contractors do not typically need on-the-job training, some contractors who go to work for a construction company or firm may be required to complete some moderate training. These firm contractors may train for months to years with a more experienced contractor to learn the ins and outs of the company and work on various kinds of projects.

Step 4: Earn Certification/Licensure

Certification is not generally required for a general contractor, but may help them be competitive in the field and/or attract new clients. Various certifications are available through several different organizations, including the American Institute of Constructors, the International Code Council, and the Construction Management Association of America. Typically candidates for certifications need to meet experience requirements and pass an exam.

Those wondering how to become a licensed contractor in their state should contact their state's licensing board. Depending on the state, contractors may need licenses to work on commercial projects, residential projects, electrical work, plumbing, and more.

Salary Overview

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that in 2018 the median pay for all construction managers was $93,370. Those in the heavy and civil engineering industry earned a median salary of $97,180 that same year, while construction managers working in the residential building construction industry made $83,460. The BLS also reported that construction managers should see an 11% increase in jobs between 2016 to 2026.

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