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A general contractor is typically hired to oversee larger construction projects and to act as an intermediary between the builder or developer and the sub-contractors. General contractors act as project managers and manage a wide variety of jobs and trades on construction projects. Their duties include but are not limited to coordinating, planning, budgeting and handling the overall direction of a construction project.
On a typical job a general contractor will basically manage most, if not all, aspects of a construction job. From choosing the materials and contractors to choosing the construction methods, setting a budget and estimating the overall cost of a project and determining a schedule. The requirements for becoming a general contractor vary from state to state but all states do require that a general contractor be licensed.
Since being a general contractor means having an overall knowledge of a lot of different trades, most general contractors usually start out working from the ground floor in the construction industry as a construction worker. Getting experience as a construction worker is a great way to obtain the overall knowledge that is necessary for a general contractor. A construction worker will be exposed to several aspects of construction including masonry, framing, electrical, plumbing and carpentry.
While working as an entry level construction worker, a good construction worker with aspirations of becoming a general contractor will take the time to develop the relationships he'll need down the line with tradesman like plumbers, masons, electricians and roofers that he'll be using down-the-line to complete construction projects when he is working as a general contractor. As a general contractor your primary function is typically the hiring of the personnel necessary to finish the project and this is one of the biggest values you provide to a developer or homeowner who hires you. Homeowners will rely on you and your relationships with several tradesmen to complete their projects in a timely and efficient manner with a close attention to detail to boot!
Education and Experience Requirements
To work as a general contractor most states will require that you obtain a license to operate as a general contractor. While there are no educational requirements, there are some experience requirements and the exam will require that you have general knowledge of the construction industry and legal matters as they pertain to the construction industry.
Although there are no set educational requirements for becoming a general contractor, it is important to consider that several of your potential employers will be looking to see whether or not you have a college degree in something like construction science or construction management. Like it or not some folks will just prefer to work with someone who has a college degree.
Most states also have experience requirements that you must complete prior to applying for a general contractor license. For example in the state of California you have to have at least four years of experience as a foreman, journeyman or as a professional contractor. A journeyman is a contractor who has completed an apprenticeship program and is capable of working on his own without supervision. A foreman has all the skills and experience of a journeyman but is also charged with overseeing a construction project. A contractor typically runs his own construction business so has to be adept at managing and overseeing all aspects of a construction project.
So as you can see experience-wise, the requirements for becoming a general contractor are actually quite extensive as you have to spend a few years as an apprentice learning a specific trade or learning a little bit about all of the trades and then you have to go on and obtain a few years of experience as a foreman, journeyman or contractor to be able to obtain your license as a general contractor. In some states you can substitute some of the experience requirements by taking college related courses. Official transcripts from an accredited college will be required to document the courses you have taken.
For example in California you can substitute as many as 1.5 years of work experience if you can provide transcripts that show you have completed an associate's degree in construction or building management or as many as three years if you completed an accredited apprenticeship program. Additional years of credit are also granted for completing a higher level degree, such as a Bachelor's degree, or for acquiring a Bachelor's degree in a specific construction degree program like construction technology, architecture or engineering.
Obtaining a License
Most states will require you to take an exam prior to issuing you a license. In California there are two portions to the contractor exam. The first portion is referred to as the Law and business section and the second section is related to the specific trade you are testing for. As a general contractor you will be answering questions related to all the trades as you will be required to be knowledgeable of all of them.
Applicants must also submit to a background check and must also be fingerprinted. There is also an application fee ($250 in California) as well as an initial license fee if you are lucky enough to pass the exam.
How to Become a General Contractor — Other Requirements
Most states will require that you carry several forms of insurance. For example in the state of Pennsylvania you will need to produce a certificate of insurance from your insurance provider for Contractor's General Liability Insurance and Workers Compensation Insurance.
General Contractors — Employment and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the general contractor field is expected to grow 19% over the 2008-2018 decade. Pay for general contractors depends on experience but according to Payscale.com, a beginning general contractor can expect to make about $50,000 annually while general contractors with over 20 years of experience typically earned just under $84,000 in the year 2010.
To find out more about general contractors and what they do or to find general contractors in your area please visit our General Contractors page.