In the rapidly changing landscape of our high-tech economy, general contractors remain one of the most stable careers. Not only is becoming a general contractor very doable for most people, but it also provides a very decent salary and job security.
Acquiring a general contractor license qualifies you to advance from small-scale handyman work to large-scale construction projects like residential buildings, office buildings, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure.
Fortunately, obtaining a contractor license is a relatively simple process with several options. While a formal education is not a requirement for contractor licenses, a successful general contractor does need specific skills and knowledge.
Once you know the process, it’s easy to become a licensed contractor and start building a great career in construction. Read on to learn the ins and outs of how to become a general contractor.
Like any job, a licensed general contractor requires a particular set of skills that include:
A general contractor manages projects from start to finish. This type of supervisory role calls for exceptional leadership skills. You’ll need to assemble a team, develop a business plan, make executive decisions, coordinate with homeowners and designers, and ensure everyone on the team is doing their job correctly.
Effective communication with clients, designers, and subcontractors is crucial because your job revolves around building what someone else wants. It means holding regular construction meetings to ensure that your team is on the right track and your client is happy. Good intra-personal skills help you build a good reputation and get you more work in the future.
You must be able to meet deadlines, set schedules, and pace your work accordingly. While some delays are likely inevitable, construction jobs rely on tight deadlines and expectations from clients and investors. Managing your crew’s time is crucial to doing the job well.
You don’t have to be an artist, but a good contractor thinks creatively to solve problems and help clients bring their vision to life. If there’s a flaw in the design or a problem renting the equipment, you’ll have to develop a workaround.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BECOME A GENERAL CONTRACTOR
The first step is to gain experience in the industry through formal education and hands-on work. As you prepare to become a general contractor, you’ll need experience in construction or a related field. You also should gain experience bidding on projects, budgeting and tracking expenses, and navigating the permit process.
The next step is to pass any required contractor exams. You will need to check local requirements to see what exams you need to take, as they vary by state or municipality.
If you need help with the licensing requirements, book a Start-Up Consultation with our dedicated licensing specialists! Our License Application Processing Service helps you navigate the licensing process from start to finish.
REQUIRED EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE
When it comes to the required experience to become a general contractor, you have a couple of options.
The first is education. You can obtain a bachelor’s degree in fields such as civil engineering, architecture, or construction management.
It’s worth noting that a bachelor’s degree will only get you so far in the construction industry. While it may help you get a job, a college degree isn’t necessary to become a general contractor. College can be used as an alternative to experience but is often not required.
Even without a college education, you can still qualify for your state’s licensing exam with enough experience—in most states, at minimum requirement is four years of construction-related work.
A high school diploma is usually non-negotiable. Most construction firms expect their general contractors to know how to adequately execute the building plans and typically rely on the high school diploma as evidence of that.
Contractor School Programs
General contractor school programs also teach the technical knowledge and practical skills needed for taking the licensing exam. Instead of pursuing a bachelor’s degree, you might consider attending one of these trade programs.
You should also note that a high school diploma is often required to sign up for the exam and the general contractor license, depending on your state.
GET YOUR CONTRACTOR’S LICENSE
The last thing between you and your general contractor's license is the exam, but why do you need one? Licensing protects consumers from hiring an unqualified construction manager, so even if you are highly qualified, you don't look like it in the eyes of your potential clients if you're unlicensed.
Depending on the state, the material covered and types of exams required vary, so make sure to research beforehand so that you don't end up wasting time preparing for the wrong exam. If you don't prepare at all, you waste risking money on multiple examination fees.
Studying for the Licensing Exam
If you're planning on taking a general contractor's exam in the future, you can find all of the study materials you'll need at the Contractor Training Center. Our experienced team of professional educators will work with you to ensure you pass your exam the first time.
No need to stress yourself out with flashcards and pages upon pages of notes—our webinar programs make learning simple, and our no-fail guarantee ensures your success.
TYPICAL CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS FOR GENERAL CONTRACTORS
Once you have a contractor’s license, you can technically take on any project. Licensed contractors are usually permitted to work on most projects, per their general contractor certification.
That said, construction projects typically break down into categories, with general contractors possessing at least one area of specialization. The typical general contractor knows all the following categories of building construction but only has a significant amount of experience in one or two.
Commercial real estate includes any building space designed and zoned to create profit. Offices, warehouses, and retail buildings all fall into this category.
Residential property can include single-family houses, multi-family units, and other residences meant for personal inhabitation. This kind of building usually carries with it extra safety precautions to ensure home safety.
This category can include anything for public usages, such as bridges, roads, sidewalks, etc.
This term includes businesses meant for goods manufacturing, such as power plants, manufacturing plants, solar wind farms, oil refineries, and more.
Now that you know all about how to become a general contractor, you might also be interested in construction management.
Like any other type of work, construction work requires managers to oversee the projects. The construction project manager collaborates with the general contractor and provides onsite supervision of all contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers.
Construction Manager Responsibilities
Construction managers typically have experience in all the proper construction practices and delegate responsibilities amongst crew members. This kind of insight comes from years of on-the-job training handling all sorts of projects.
A construction manager should be well-versed in the business side of the work, as well. A big part of project management is overseeing the financial agreements to ensure that the project doesn't go over budget.
Reading financial statements, coordinating orders, and negotiating the contractor bond and the surety bond are just some of the manager's roles within the construction company.
Construction Manager Education
While a master's degree in construction management can be a plus and might help you snag a position at a big construction firm, it's not necessary.
A bachelor's degree in construction science and hands-on experience can often be enough. A proven grasp of construction science is the main requirement to demonstrate you can adequately handle any technical difficulties that emerge.
Still, if you are interested in a higher-up position with a big firm, plenty of master's degree programs are available to help you learn all sides of the project planning process.
Progressing from a general contractor to project management is challenging and comes with a pretty big learning curve. You might know how to become a general contractor, but becoming the manager of every other general contractor in your crew is another story.
Sure, you have technical knowledge from your bachelor's degree or even your master's degree. However, industry insight and intra-personal management skills take time to acquire.
To feel entirely comfortable moving into a construction management position, you might consider joining a professional community for general contractors or a local construction management association.
You usually don't need a bachelor's degree or master's degree to join one, only a proven commitment to the industry. Aside from networking opportunities, these groups of general contractors will help you get the full scope of the contracting business by learning from the experience of others.
Should you want to establish your own construction company one day, these connections will be hugely helpful. Such contractor associations can help you compile a business plan and gather the investments and resources needed to make this dream a reality.
Construction is an excellent career choice for many people. In a world increasingly demanding that everyone have a bachelor's or master's degree, a contractor job makes a high-paying salary attainable with the right type of technical license or general contractor license.
With few strict requirements in terms of education, construction is a career path available to anyone with a high school diploma. General contractors will always remain in high demand as long as building and development are still lucrative industries.
Scoring a construction-related job shouldn't be a daunting task. Once you know the steps of how to become a general contractor, the road to this fulfilling career seems much more manageable.
At Contractor Training Center, we have everything you need to study for your licensing exams. We have exam prep for state-specific business and law exams as well as trade-specific exams. Our tabbed and highlighted textbooks are also essential for preparing for your exam.
Schedule a Start-Up Call with one of our licensing specialists so we can help you navigate the licensing process. We look forward to helping you through the licensing process and to be a part of your journey to becoming a licensed contractor!