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.
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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.
Contractors ensure projects are completed on time and under budget. They spend much of their behind the scenes working with wholesalers or other entities to secure the proper materials, permits and workforce. They keep clients up-to-date on the project, respond to emergencies or setbacks, and coordinate work with architects, plumbers, carpenters and electricians. Contractors also handle worker safety, permits building code verification.
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.
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.
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 career preparation can begin as early as high school, especially when students have access to vocational programs that offer training and early college credits in construction and related fields. One should consider finding small jobs: even helping parents around the house reinforces time management, safety, measuring and other key skills.
Construction management certificates and degrees help future contractors hone the knowledge they’ll need in the field while enhancing leadership skills. These programs teach students about building materials, construction financing, cost estimating, scheduling green building and more. Certificates for special trades contractors, such as carpenters or painters, can be a nice resume boost.
While degree programs can help teach students the finer points of construction, management and design, there is no substitute for hands-on training. Most future contractors begin as assistants or apprentices to seasoned contractors who teach them the ropes.
Many states require contractor licenses for certain types of projects, like high-cost, commercial, residential or public works contracting and have stringent requirements for contractor licensing. The National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies can help aspiring contractors learn more about the licensing process in their home states.
Some states require contractors to have a certain amount of liability insurance to cover any problems that might arise in the course of work, as well as a bond and/or business license. Contractors must meet all requirements before entering the field
Technology and tools are constantly changing. Certificate programs, certifying programs, and other courses can keep skills and knowledge current.
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.|
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
Students are exposed to documents commonly used on a day-to-day basis, including legal contracts.
Students will learn the important points of safety management at the general contracting level.
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.
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.
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.
This job involves inspecting buildings during and after construction to ensure they meet all building codes, local ordinances, zoning requirements and contract specifications.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
This independent body accredits programs in engineering, engineering technology and more, including those programs in construction technology.
This council accredits construction programs throughout the nation, as well as provides industry support and resources for those in the construction trades.
The AIC exists to promote individual professionalism and excellence in all fields of construction.
Formed 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.
This site offers information on what each state requires of contractors, and how homeowners can verify contracting licenses.
This site offers comprehensive information on licensing in various states, as well as information on project management, business law and more.
This education foundation develops standard curriculums for credentialing programs in the construction industry.
There are so many paths to becoming a contractor that it can be tough to choose the right one. We make the search easier with this tool, which helps prospective students narrow down the degree options to find those that suit their needs best.