Contracting can be a lucrative and rewarding profession, and it has the potential to scale from small, personal projects to the management of a highly profitable business. Accordingly, it's a profession that requires you to wear many different hats. The challenge of this is that there's a ton to learn. The benefit is that along the way you'll gather skills that can both help you in your own life and provide significant value to your customers.
If you think you might want to earn a living in contracting, here's a rundown of what it takes as far as education, certifications, and experience, plus an overview of what the industry potential looks like in 2021 and beyond.
What General Contractors Do
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General contractors are the site managers for any number of projects, in both residential and commercial environments. They are responsible for a host of tasks ranging from swinging a hammer themselves to hiring and coordinating with subcontractors. Projects commonly include building structures and completing remodels or renovations.
If you are the general contractor and also the business owner, which is pretty typical, you have a host of responsibilities in addition to the actual build going on. This includes taking the time to manage office staff, handle payroll and employee issues, monitor local and federal regulations, present bids for services by visiting each site and evaluating the work required, order supplies, educate customers, and schedule jobs.
A general contractor typically has the role of overseeing one or more projects at a time. On some job sites, the role might be labeled as a director of construction, construction manager, construction superintendent, senior construction manager, project manager, facilities manager, or project superintendent, among others.
General contractors can work inside or outside and are often moving from one job location to another. There is also a significant amount of office work and phone time required to coordinate supplies and workers. Work is in new or existing homes and businesses. They also work around yards. The job often requires working in dirty, dusty conditions and loud construction environments. It may also require working in rain, wind, snow and hot or cold temperatures.
Work hours vary widely in the industry with many part-time and full-time employees, yet overtime is not uncommon during the busiest seasons and sometimes there are months without work. Work may require very early mornings, and evening and weekend hours. As a general contractor, you'll work alone at times, and interact with a diverse group of employees and subcontractors.
Education and Certifications
Most general contractors evolve from experience working in construction and are trained on the job, however many general contractors hold a bachelor's degree. Many get a start through work in floor covering, roofing, framing, window installation, masonry, and a combination of other experiences.
There are classes where you can learn introductory skills such as proper measuring, material calculations, construction basics, blueprint reading, building code requirements, and local and national regulations.
Since most general contractors are in business for themselves, you must be licensed with the state. State requirements may vary so check with your local authorities. To earn your license, you will fill out paperwork, complete tests that show an understanding of the industry, and submit an application to form a company. You will also need to have insurance for your business.
Technically the only experience you need is the knowledge to pass the state licensure test, but your business won’t go far if you don’t have hands-on expertise and some idea of how the project needs to come together. While you can hire subcontractors for every part of the project, it’s more profitable to do some of the work yourself or pay your own employees to complete it.
You'll need to develop experience managing project timelines, learn the laws within your state, and pick up the skills to stay on top of business paperwork for things like payroll and insurance.
Strong Personal Characteristics
Every job has certain personal characteristics that help the job be a more natural match for the person. Becoming a general contractor requires a strong understanding of the construction industry, from the regulations to the actual work. While you may specialize in one or two areas, such as roofing and masonry work, you need to be able to coordinate workers for the rest of the project. That requires excellent time management, organization, and communication skills. If you’ve ever worked in construction, or even completed some DIY projects in your home, you know no project goes as planned so flexibility and adaptability are key.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical annual pay range for construction managers is around $95,000.
As of 2021, the job outlook for general contractors is on the rise with the federal government expecting an 8% increase within the labor force.
Working as a general contractor comes with intrinsic safety hazards mostly associated with heights, hauling supplies up and down ladders, and falling items on construction sites.
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