General Contractor: Job Duties, Career Outlook, and Education Prerequisites

Explore the career requirements for general contractors. Get the facts about educational requirements, job duties, career outlook and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Construction Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a General Contractor?

General contractors are in charge of all aspects of a construction project. They do cost estimations, assemble and advise a crew, and supervise many details from paperwork to the physical work. Contractors consult with other professionals, such as engineers and architects, who may also be integral to certain construction projects. They may be present on-site or work more frequently in an office.

See the chart below for essential details about becoming a general contractor.

Degree Requirements High school diploma at minimum; associate's or bachelor's degree is useful and recommended, but not required
Education Field of Study Construction management, construction science, architecture, or engineering
Key Duties Oversight of all phases of construction, including employee supervision, budgeting and inspections
Licensure and Certification Licensure may be required, depending on the state regulations and area of specialty; certification is voluntary
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 5% for all construction managers
Average Annual Salary (2015)* $97,510 for all construction managers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Job Duties Might I Have as a General Contractor?

General contractors are in charge of commercial or residential building projects. As part of your job, you'll plan and schedule the stages of construction. On any given assignment, you might be responsible for very few aspects of project management or in charge of several areas such as performing inspections, employee supervision or project budgeting. You could participate in actual construction labor, but most often you might select subcontractors to handle various jobs such as plumbing installation and painting. In addition, you'd prepare budgets and explain construction plans to clients and workers.

What Is the Expected Career Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), construction management jobs were expected to increase by 5% between 2014 and 2024, which is about average for all occupations. The BLS predicted that general contractors might see more opportunities for employment with an increased need for retrofitting buildings to meet energy efficiency standards. Those who have experience combined with a bachelor's degree in construction science, construction management or civil engineering could have the most job prospects. In 2015, the BLS reported that income for all construction managers, which includes general contractors, was an average of $92,510 per year.

What Education Prerequisites Must I Satisfy?

Many general contractors begin working in the construction field as skilled tradesmen such as plumbers and carpenters and, after gaining practical experience and knowledge, decide to strike out on their own as self-employed general contractors. You can choose that route, or you, like many other aspiring general contractors, could obtain a college degree in construction science or a related subject.

Educational training programs can be found at vocational schools or community colleges. Many schools offer two-year programs like an Associate of Science in Construction Management or Construction Technology. Some general contractors may choose to earn a Bachelor of Science in Construction Management. Curricula will include courses such as chemistry, blueprint reading, engineering physics, construction drawing, building technology and structural analysis.

With a college degree, you'll be able to progress from management trainee to construction manager in time. Depending on the state you reside in and your area of specialty, you may need to fulfill licensing requirements. Earning a voluntary certification can improve your job prospects. The National Center for Construction Education and Research offers various certifications in the construction trades.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

While general contractors do more organizing, leading, and physical work, architects design the structures others work on, which is another career possibility. A professional bachelor's or master's degree in architecture is essential, as is licensure. Similar to an architect, a civil engineer designs various technological systems and structures, and the profession also requires a bachelor's degree. One may be interested in cost estimating as well, which involves gathering and studying data to make an accurate guess about the total cost of projects or services. Like architects and civil engineers, cost estimators need at least a bachelor's degree.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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