Contractor Careers & Programs | How to Become a Contractor

Contractor careers require experience, licensing and education. Learn about contractor degree & certificate programs, and explore contractor specializations.

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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.

Contractor Careers Basics

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.

Step 1
Get some experience
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.
Step 2
Consider higher education
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.
Step 3
Seek on-the-job training
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.
Step 4
Look into licensing requirements
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.
Step 5
Meet insurance and licensing requirements
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
Step 6
Continue learning
Technology and tools are constantly changing. Certificate programs, certifying programs, and other courses can keep skills and knowledge current.

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.

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.

Contractor Certificate

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.

Skills Gained

  • Understanding load bearing
  • Installation of common elements, including windows and doors
  • Working with concrete systems

Safety Planning

Students learn how to keep construction areas safe and secure, including OSHA guidelines and environmental concerns.

Skills Gained

  • Understanding the cost and causes of accidents
  • Ethical reporting and handling of such situations
  • Emergency response
  • Understanding of worker's compensation laws

Cost Estimating

Students studying the financial aspects of building structures, including planning and budgeting.

Skills Gained

  • How to handle surprise over-budget projects
  • Planning an accurate budget that accounts for all materials and labor
  • Presenting a complete written budget to clients


Students learn how to plan, schedule, and control a project to keep the work moving.

Skills Gained

  • How to use Gantt charts and basic networks
  • Resource allocation and worker delegation
  • How to file construction delay claims

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.

Skills Gained

  • Ability to choose proper staff and delegate to them
  • Effective leadership and motivational techniques
  • Managing change and conflict in the workplace

Construction Surveying

Students will come to understand the methods and uses of surveys and measurements in commercial, residential and road construction.

Skills Gained

  • Proper distance measuring
  • How to read surveys
  • Understanding variations in surveys

Organizational Behavior

This course focuses on the practice, theory and current research of human behavior in occupational settings, including construction work sites.

Skills Gained

  • How to foster work satisfaction
  • How interpersonal behavior affects group behavior
  • Group dynamics their impact on decision-making

Construction Management

Students manage a construction project that makes use of all knowledge learned over the course of the program.

Skills Gained

  • Dealing with everything from safety to business law
  • Real-time scheduling, ordering and planning
  • Construction operations, from pre-planning to completion

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.

Skills Gained

  • Understanding commercial finishes, materials and products that provide longevity
  • Creating a proper foundation for large commercial structures
  • Working with concrete and pre-cast concrete

Building Codes

This course seeks to familiarize students with the variety of building codes they might face as a general contractor.

Skills Gained

  • Understanding building codes for a variety of professions, including plumbing, electrical, etc.
  • Knowing how building codes are developed
  • Working within zoning ordinances
  • Handling permit requests, denials and modifications

Documents and Contracts

Students are exposed to documents commonly used on a day-to-day basis, including legal contracts.

Skills Gained

  • Reading documents generated during the process
  • Understanding contracts and proper authorization of changes
  • Dispute resolution
  • A firm grasp of warranties, indemnity and liability

Advanced Safety Management

Students will learn the important points of safety management at the general contracting level.

Skills Gained

  • Compliance with government regulations
  • Use of personnel protection and lifesaving equipment
  • Safety administration for a large workforce

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 Architect

2015 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 Contractor

2015 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 Inspector

2015 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 Carpenter

2015 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 Estimators

2015 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.


  • Business savvy

    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.

  • Good time management

    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.

  • Analytical thinking

    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.

  • Excellent communication

    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.

  • Initiative

    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

  • Transit levels
  • All sorts of hand and power tools
  • Computers
  • Large-format scanners
  • Microsoft Visio
  • Profitool software
  • Autodesk AutoCAD
  • ArenaSoft Estimating
  • CBS ProLog Manager


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

Architectural and Engineering Managers


Median Salary (2015):


Education/Training Required:

Bachelor's degree

Hazardous Material Removal Workers


Median Salary (2015):


Education/Training Required:

High school diploma



Median Salary (2015):


Education/Training Required:

Bachelor's degree

Civil Engineers


Median Salary (2015):


Education/Training Required:

Bachelor's degree



Median Salary (2015):


Education/Training Required:

Bachelor's degree

Solar Photovoltaic Installers


Median Salary (2015):


Education/Training Required:

High school diploma

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


This independent body accredits programs in engineering, engineering technology and more, including those programs in construction technology.

American Council for Construction Education

This council accredits construction programs throughout the nation, as well as provides industry support and resources for those in the construction trades.

American Institute of Constructors

The AIC exists to promote individual professionalism and excellence in all fields of construction.

Construction Management Association of America

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.

Contractor's License Reference Site

This site offers information on what each state requires of contractors, and how homeowners can verify contracting licenses.

National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies

This 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 Research

This education foundation develops standard curriculums for credentialing programs in the construction industry.

Related Resources

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