General contractors are hired by clients to lead construction projects from inception to completion. As managers, general contractors are responsible for controlling budgets, hiring/directing personnel, procuring materials, adhering to schedules, and overcoming any obstacles that may arise. Often, general contractors run their own businesses and enlist the help of specialists such as carpenters, electricians, and plumbers on an as-needed basis to complete a given project. Review these high-level requirements to see if becoming a general contractor is a viable choice for your career.
As obvious as this may sound, you must have on-the-job experience and knowledge of the construction field to become a general contractor. It is critical to know the ins and outs of project management if you expect clients to hire and trust you to get the job done. Realistically, you should not begin the process of becoming a general contractor until you have at least 2 years of onsite experience assisting or working closely with an established general contractor. Plus, in order to build a client base, you must have contacts within the industry and build a solid reputation in your area. This is virtually impossible to achieve without experience.
Whether you have previous experience in the industry or not, earning a construction-related degree will only make you more attractive to potential clients. Common degree majors include construction management, construction science, construction engineering, and, gaining recent popularity, green and sustainable design. If the cost and time needed to complete a bachelor’s degree isn’t feasible for you, consider first obtaining an associate’s degree and applying those credits to a bachelor’s (or even master’s) degree at a later date. In addition to construction classes, business administration coursework will also be highly valuable.
Gained from education, experience, or a mix of the two, general contractors should have these basic soft skills and core traits in addition to industry knowledge:
License requirements for general contractors vary by state. General Contractor License Guide’s website provides licensing information for all 50 states and is a great place to start digging into the application and examination process. Having a national certification can’t hurt either, such as the Construction Management Association of America’s Certified Construction Manager (CCM) credential and the American Institute of Constructors’ Associate Constructor (AC) and Certified Professional Constructor (CPC) designations.
After you achieve your license, secure liability, workers’ compensation, and vehicle insurance (if needed). Depending on your state, you may also be required to prove that you have the minimal working capital necessary to start taking on projects.
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