Contractor Careers & ProgramsHow to Become a Contractor
Anyone who ever built, added to or renovated a home is likely well acquainted with the role of contractors. Contractors manage and coordinate construction work in residential homes or massive commercial properties, either independently, or as a part of a construction business. Because their decisions can impact the construction soundness and safety, the proper training pays off. Here’s what it takes to launch and advance a contracting career.
What Does a Contractor Do?
Contractors oversee all aspects of construction, from design and planning to building supervision. They might budget for materials and labor, manage workers, and serve as liaisons between clients and construction teams.
One could think of self-employed contractors as a ‘one stop shop’ for construction building, maintenance and repair. They work with homeowners, business owners, large contracting firms or factories by assuming hands-on or managerial tasks. Contractors also work with construction workers and other trade professionals.
Contractor Salaries & Job Growth
Contractor Salaries Across the US
Contractor earnings vary widely across the United States: geography, experience, educational attainment, and certification play a role. This tool helps readers identify average earnings by state.
Contractor Job Growth
Buildings are always needed – and old ones are often in need of repair and maintenance – giving a reasonably steady place in the workforce. The following highlights job growth projections for the construction industry.
Steps to Becoming a Contractor
While contractors benefit from being savvy builders, that alone does not ensure success in the field. Readers who are serious about lifelong careers in construction can follow a few clear steps to get there.
Contractor Degrees & Concentrations
Not all contractors perform the same work or duties. With so many degree paths available, there is bound to be one that fits your professional goals, scheduling needs and more.
|Career Goals and Educational Needs||Certificate||Associate||Bachelor’s||Online|
|I have a little bit of experience with construction, but do not know if contracting or construction management is right for me. I need a degree that leaves options open.||
|I’ve been working as an apprentice for a few years and am ready to strike out on my own. I’ve noticed my competition tends to have more education than I do right now. I need a program that can validate my skills without a lengthy commitment.||
|I’ve always wanted to run my own construction company, but I know that it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s time to get an education that will open doors to management positions.||
|I am a full-time worker who would like to launch or advance my career. I need a construction management program that fits my schedule.||
Preparing for a Contractor Career: Degrees & Schools
On-the-job training offers plenty of practical contracting experience, but may not cover some of the finer points of the field, including construction regulations and code. The following learning options can fill in the gaps.
Trade schools combine classroom instruction with hands-on work and frequently offer co-op programs for high school students interested in construction work or management.
A background in military construction and engineering can go a long way toward securing employment as a construction manager: veterans are often specifically sought out in the construction trades.
These two-year schools offer construction-relevant certificates and associate degrees ideal for aspiring independent contractors who want to apply their knowledge quickly or move on to higher degrees.
Colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degrees--a standard requirement corporate construction managers. Many programs are offered at least partly online.
Types of Contractor Degrees
Working as a contractor requires a particular skillset an, in some cases, formal education. Here are the most common educational paths for those determined to pursue contractor careers.
These programs typically take one year or less to complete and are designed to teach students specialized information, enhance their skills or prepare them for degree programs. Programs at this level are available in a wide variety of areas, including construction management, construction engineering technology, building systems, OSHA Outreach and more. Below are a few of the classes one might take in a certificate program.
Construction Materials and Methods
This introductory course offers the basics of commercial construction, from creating proper foundations to roofing techniques.
Students learn how to keep construction areas safe and secure, including OSHA guidelines and environmental concerns.
Students studying the financial aspects of building structures, including planning and budgeting.
Students learn how to plan, schedule, and control a project to keep the work moving.
Associate Contractor Degree
Construction management is perhaps the most common associate degree for aspiring contractors. Programs take about two years to complete and may be available entirely online. Some programs require general education courses, but applied associate degrees offer targeted courses, thus allowing students to enter the workforce faster. Those who plan on pursuing bachelor’s degrees may want to enroll in a more academic program.
Typical associate-level construction management courses:
Principles of Management
This course prepares students to deal with the wide variety of issues managers will face on a construction site.
Students will come to understand the methods and uses of surveys and measurements in commercial, residential and road construction.
This course focuses on the practice, theory and current research of human behavior in occupational settings, including construction work sites.
Students manage a construction project that makes use of all knowledge learned over the course of the program.
Contractor Bachelor’s Degree
A bachelor’s degree can give construction managers an edge in the workforce. Large construction firms increasingly prefer professionals with several years of on-the-job experience and/or a relevant bachelor’s degree. The degree requires about four years of full-time study, though those who are working full-time jobs might be pleased to learn that many programs can be taken completely online. Common classes students can expect at the bachelor’s degree level:
Commercial Construction Methods
This course focuses on the differences in commercial and residential construction methods, taking into account the requirements for strength, durability and safety.
This course seeks to familiarize students with the variety of building codes they might face as a general contractor.
Documents and Contracts
Students are exposed to documents commonly used on a day-to-day basis, including legal contracts.
Advanced Safety Management
Students will learn the important points of safety management at the general contracting level.
Contractor Career Concentrations
New and budding contractors have a huge number of options open to them. Formal certificate, associate degrees and bachelor’s degree usually translate well to another area of construction, including the following careers, with salaries from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Landscape Architect2015 median wage: $63,810
These designers work with clients to create beautiful and functional outdoor spaces in residential areas, large subdivisions, commercial buildings, college campuses, recreational facilities and other sites.
Green Building Contractor2015 median wage: $87,400
These construction managers are trained to focus great buildings with reclaimed, sustainable and otherwise environmentally-friendly materials. As environmental issues take center stage, more construction managers will find that this area of construction grows in demand.
Building Inspector2015 median wage: $57,340
This job involves inspecting buildings during and after construction to ensure they meet all building codes, local ordinances, zoning requirements and contract specifications.
Master Carpenter2015 median wage: $42,090
Master carpenters are exceptionally skilled professionals highly sought after by companies, private businesses and homeowners. Their work varies based on their particular expertise. For instance, a master carpenter might build and fit kitchen cabinets, work on decks and outdoor areas, or build additions to homes and businesses.
Cost Estimators2015 median wage: $60,390
These highly-trained professionals estimate the time, money, labor and materials required to complete a project. Cost estimators work in a variety of industries, including construction.
Components of a Successful Contractor Career: Skills, Credentials, Tools & Technology
Successful contractors often have certain skills and traits. They are also familiar with certain tools and technologies that serve them--and their clients--well.
The work includes not only dealing with subcontractors and other workers, but handling client concerns as well. A good contractor must be able to get the job done while ensuring everyone has what they need.
Construction projects are always on the clock, and sometimes going over that deadline means that the client owes more money – an unhappy scenario. Time management skills can ensure everything is done when it should be.
Contractors must be able to consider several factors at once, handle unexpected delays or changes, and work through problems that come up over the course of a project.
Professionals who lead construction crews or work with large teams must be able to communicate their plans extremely well, both in person and in writing.
Many contractors are self-employed, so must be ‘go-getters’ to get the jobs that keep them financially stable. Having the ability and wherewithal to seek out new clients is vitally important to their success.
Tools and Technology
Contractor credentials and certificates often voluntary, but some states do expect them for abatement issues, like removing lead or asbestos. The credentials a contractor pursues depend heavily upon the work they tend t perform. For example, the LEED Green Associate is great for those who are into green building, while the Certified Welding Supervisor is obviously for those who are working in the welding field. Registered Roof Consultant, Commercial Mechanical Inspector, and Master Ground Water Contractor are a few other examples.
Most credentials are awarded by associations or organizations that cater to that particular field. Contractors should look into the associations that support their profession to learn more.
Related Careers at a Glance
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High school diploma
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What do related occupations make?General Contractor and Related Job Salaries
Where a contractor works can have a great effect on salary. Use the salary tool below to compare the wages of contractors in your state to those in other locations.General Contractor Salary Comparison Tool
Contractor Career & Training Resources
ABETThis independent body accredits programs in engineering, engineering technology and more, including those programs in construction technology.
American Council for Construction EducationThis council accredits construction programs throughout the nation, as well as provides industry support and resources for those in the construction trades.
American Institute of ConstructorsThe AIC exists to promote individual professionalism and excellence in all fields of construction.
Construction Management Association of AmericaFormed in 1982, the CMAA has over 14,000 members. It focuses on certification, education, training and other points that matter to those who intend on a lifelong contractor career.
Contractor’s License Reference SiteThis site offers information on what each state requires of contractors, and how homeowners can verify contracting licenses.
National Association of State Contractors Licensing AgenciesThis site offers comprehensive information on licensing in various states, as well as information on project management, business law and more.
National Center for Construction Education and ResearchThis education foundation develops standard curriculums for credentialing programs in the construction industry.
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