How to Become a General Contractor in 5 Steps

Discover how to become a general contractor. Learn about salary, job outlook, contracting school, and how long it takes to become a contractor. Explore your options for general contractor certification and industry training. Schools offering Construction Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

General Contractor Requirements and Job Description

A general contractor oversees every aspect of a construction project. Many contractors get to their position by gaining experience, completing an apprenticeship or earning an undergraduate degree in the field. General contractors may be employed to supervise new construction of housing projects or office buildings, but they are also capable of overseeing remodeling and renovation. They must be familiar with city and state building codes in order to make sure their structures abide by the law. The table below provides an overview of helpful information about this career, including education and job outlook.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree; apprenticeships are also available
Education Field of Study Construction management, engineering, construction science
Key Skills Leadership, interpersonal, problem-solving, time management
Licensure/Certification Licensure is required in some states and if managing large projects; Certification is optional
Job Growth (2016-2026) 11% (for all construction managers)*
Average Annual Salary (2019) $75,430 (for general contractors)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

How to Become a General Contractor

A general contractor is responsible for planning, budgeting and coordinating construction projects, whether of commercial and residential buildings or of roads, bridges, sewers and other infrastructure. Their duties include creating budgets, scheduling jobs, hiring subcontractors and arranging for materials transport. They often consult with architects, engineers and owners about the evolving needs of a project to make sure it stays on time and on budget. On very large jobs, management duties for site preparation, landscaping, road construction and building construction may be handled by several different contractors. Below are the pathways and steps to becoming a general contractor.

Step 1: Learn to be a General Contractor Through Work Experience

You can advance to a general contractor position after accumulating substantial work experience as a carpenter, plumber, mason or electrician. Internships, field jobs and cooperative education programs are possible methods of gaining experience. You could also enter an apprenticeship, which are administered by trade associations, trade unions and local employers. They last 3-5 years and couple on-the-job experience with a designated number of hours per year of classroom instruction.

Step 2: Acquire Your General Contractor Education Through a Bachelor's Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), general contractors with bachelor's degrees in construction management or a related area increasingly receive hiring preference by industry employers. Bachelor's degree programs in construction management draw concepts from business management and structural engineering to teach you the process of managing a construction project from beginning to end. This contracting school experience will develop your skills in

  • Value analysis
  • Cost estimating
  • Site planning
  • Scheduling
  • Building codes
  • Construction technology
  • Construction methods

A bachelor's degree is typically earned in four years. Some degrees in construction management can also be acquired online.

Step 3: Add a Master's Degree to Your General Contractor Training

Earning a master's degree in construction management can improve your employment prospects, especially during slow times in the construction industry. Master's degree programs enhance the financial, organizational and technical competencies you need to oversee a project or to administer a construction company. Courses involve the study of such advanced topics as bidding, negotiation, labor relations, conflict resolution and business plan implementation. Master's degree programs are typically completed in two years.

Step 4: Obtain General Contractor Certification

You have three options for certification. The Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) awards the Certified Construction Manager (CCM). The American Institute of Constructors (AIC) awards the Associate Constructor (AC) for entry-level general contractors and the Certified Professional Constructor (CPC) for advanced contractors. All are voluntary.

You can qualify for the CCM certification exam in one of several ways. The baseline requirement is 48 months of experience as a construction manager. In addition, you're eligible if you have a bachelor's or master's degree in construction management, construction science, engineering or architecture. You're also eligible if you have an associate's degree and four years of experience in construction or if you have no postsecondary education and eight years of experience in construction. The exam lasts five hours and tests you in such areas as project management, cost management and time management.

The AIC credentials have no minimum education requirements for either the AC or CPC designation. You can substitute qualifying work experience if you have no formal education. Eligibility for the AC certification exam requires either four years of experience, four years of education or a combination of experience and education. CPC eligibility depends in part on whether you have status as an AC. If you're AC certified, you'll need four years of work experience, education or a combination as well as two years of experience managing construction projects. If you aren't AC certified, you'll need eight years of work experience and two years of construction management experience.

Step 5: Obtain a License

In addition to bonding and insurance, you'll need a license in some locales. Licensing requirements vary widely by state, county or even city. Some authorities mandate the passage of a licensing exam. Others limit eligibility to contractors who work on projects above a stated cost threshold. Some only license residential or commercial builders or HVAC, electrical and plumbing contractors. Some specify levels of education and years of work experience.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

For individuals with a keen eye for design, they may wish to pursue careers in architecture. Architects are responsible for the planning and designing of various structures, like houses and buildings. Other possibilities include careers in civil engineering, which involves the designing and constructing of public structures like bridges and roads, or landscape architecture, which involves designing outdoor spaces like parks and school campuses.

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