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How to Become a General Contractor: An Expert Guide

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If you have a passion for construction and want to start a career where you can have your own business, becoming a general contractor can be the right thing for you!

The construction industry is growing at a remarkable rate and is expected to reach $14.4 trillion by 2030. This means plenty of job opportunities and unmatched job security.

If you’re interested in working in this profession, this guide will show you how to become a general contractor and answer all the common questions you might have about the job.

An Overview of General Contractors: A Primer

A general contractor is responsible for scheduling, budgeting, and overseeing a construction project, whether it’s residential or commercial.

The job also goes by other names, such as prime contractors, main contractors, and construction managers.

General contractors communicate and coordinate with all the involved tradesmen, subcontractors, and vendors to ensure the safe completion of the project. They’re also responsible for providing workers and materials necessary for the project.

The reason they’re called general is to distinguish them from specialty contractors, which are concerned with particular aspects, such as plumbing, electricity, etc.

As a general contractor, you need to have a wide range of knowledge in the construction industry, including building codes and regulations.

How Much Do General Contractors Make?

In most cases, general contractors earn a decent salary with plenty of benefits. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average hourly rate of a construction manager is $47.55 per hour.

However, the exact earnings of a contractor can vary depending on many aspects, including:

  • The size of the project they’re working on.
  • The level of work experience they have.
  • The location of the construction project and average rates there.

What You’ll Need to Become a General Contractor [& Associated Costs]

A General Contractor showing a house for a  married couple

Like other businesses associated with construction work, there are some essential requirements to become a licensed contractor. These include:

  • GED or High School Diploma: The minimum educational requirement to meet the licensing requirements and apply for higher education degrees in construction management. A typical GED exam costs up to $180 depending on the state.
  • Apprenticeship: Some states may require hands-on experience to be eligible for licensure and registration. This also allows you to earn money while training. (around $29)
  • State License: Every state will have its own requirements to become licensed. You’ll typically need to pass an exam and pay a fee, which is usually under $300 but varies by state.

Note: Higher education such as an associate degree and bachelor’s degree in related fields is not usually mandatory. Yet, it helps if you want to advance your career and become a construction manager. They typically cost around $1,500 to $30,000.

How Much Does it Cost to Become a General Contractor?

Becoming a general contractor isn’t too costly. In most cases, you can pay as little as $2,000 to become a licensed general contractor

However, the costs can vary significantly depending on your education and training choices. This can increase the overall costs by up to $35,000.

That being said, advanced education usually unlocks better career opportunities, so it’s a good long-term investment.

Is it Hard to Become a General Contractor?

Becoming a general contractor requires a special license and passing a board exam that varies by state. 

Building contractors also need to obtain a decent level of experience to practice. This experience is necessary to gain the skills required to carry out the job responsibilities.

For that reason, becoming a general contractor is somewhat challenging, but it shouldn’t be too difficult if you take your time with every step.

How Long Does it Take to Become a General Contractor?

The answer here heavily depends on the kind of education and apprenticeship you go for while training to become licensed.

For example, a general contractor that goes for an associate degree and short training may take up to two to three years.

On the other hand, if you go for a bachelor’s degree and a high-end apprenticeship program, it can take you four to seven years in total. Keep in mind that as long as you’re licensed, you can work during that time and start earning money.

How to Become a General Contractor in 5 Simple Steps

image for schema on how to become a general contractor

Now that you know more about general contractors, here’s a brief step-by-step guide to help you get started.

1. Get Your Education Requirements Sorted

The first step to becoming a general contractor is to get your high school diploma. This is because it’s the minimum requirement to work as a contractor.

If you’re planning to advance your career as a construction manager or construction supervisor, you should opt for higher education. This includes an associate’s degree or even a bachelor’s degree. 

To earn your degree. you can go to a trade school or a community college. The choice here depends on the education level you’re aiming for. 

Enrolling in a general contractor training program and earning a degree may take anywhere between two to four years.

2. Gain Hands-on Experience

While studying to gain the necessary education to become a general contractor, you should gain hands-on experience. It can also be an alternative to continuing education.

One of the best ways to achieve that is through apprenticeship where you work as a trainee under a professional. 

This allows you to gain critical knowledge from a certified contractor. It also improves your chances of getting employed after earning your degree.

In fact, many workers find apprenticeships and internships much more essential than education for general contractors. Good training and experience also improve your pay and improves your chances of getting employed with better pay.

3. Obtain a General Contractor License

To become licensed, you should contact your state’s contractor licensing body. Luckily, most states make it easier to submit the license application online.

Every state has different requirements when it comes to general contractor licensing. That’s why you need to check the necessary steps and documents where you want to practice with the local licensing board.

In most cases, you’ll need to pay a small fee and pass an examination to obtain the license. These exams are usually about building code in the states and require you to pass with a certain grade.

4. Search for a Job

Now that you’ve completed your education and licensing requirements, you should also have the experience necessary to seek your first official job as a general contractor.

Luckily, general contractors are in fairly high demand. This means that you won’t have a hard time landing a job. 

There are also plenty of job boards that constantly list new job offers for general contractors, such as Indeed, Monster, and LinkedIn.

5. Create a Plan and Manage Your Business

Besides working for an employer, you can also work as a freelance general contractor. To achieve that you’ll need to create a proper business plan.

You’ll also need to obtain an independent business license and register yourself as a local contractor. 

A good tip here is to work on building your reputation by partnering with larger companies and providing outstanding customer service.

Reasons to Consider Becoming a General Contractor

A close-up of home owner handshaking with a general contractor

There are plenty of reasons why you might want to become a building contractor. In this section, we’ll highlight four of the most popular factors that encourage others to pick this gig!

  • Owning Your Business: Establishing your own business can be a difficult and costly step, as you usually need significant capital for the initial investment. However, as a contractor, you invest in your own skills and start a profitable business with little capital.
  • Flexibility: As a general contractor, your work schedule is less restricted compared to a full-time employee. In many cases, general contractors work fewer hours per week and are compensated handsomely for overtime.
  • Quick and Easy Employment: General contractors are always in high demand and will continue to be so according to most reports. This means you’ll always find lucrative job opportunities and get employed quickly.
  • Transferable Skills: If a general contractor isn’t the ideal job for you, you’ll gain excellent skills such as supervision, project management, and teamwork. These skills can be advantageous in many other fields.

Frequently Asked Questions

Aspiring general contractors often have many things to wonder about. Here’s a quick look at some of the most common questions and their answers.

What Type of Contractor Makes the Most Money?

The answer to this question may vary depending on the local demand and where you live. However, construction managers are often regarded as one of the highest-paid contractor jobs.

According to the BLS, the average median salary of a construction manager is around $98,890 per year.

What State Pays General Contractors the Most Money?

According to a 2022 report by BLS, general contractors in Hawaii earn the highest annual median wage at $66,650. Illinois and New Jersey come in close second place, with contractors there earning a median of $65,590 per year. 

Keep in mind that these figures may not reflect other aspects like the cost of living and purchasing power.

Similar Gigs to Check Out

In addition to being a general contractor, there are plenty of excellent gig jobs that offer similar advantages. Click any of the guides below to find all the information you need to get started in these jobs:

  • How to Become a Mechanic: Similar to contractors, mechanics are always in demand and have excellent job security and opportunities to expand their careers.
  • How to Become a Welder: Being a welder requires a handy person with some special skills. The job has a learning curve but offers high pay with excellent demand.
  • How to Become a Health Inspector: Like contractors, a health inspector relies heavily on supervision and overseeing projects. The job requires special licensing with great pay while introducing you to a whole new field.

Wrapping Up

This marks the end of today’s guide that walks you through a brief guide to becoming a general contractor.

Working as a contractor comes with plenty of benefits and it’s a great job to consider if you’re all about flexibility and job security.

As you can see, to become a general contractor, you need to earn a GED or a high school diploma as well as proper education/training. 

You also need to obtain a license with different requirements based on where you want to practice. 

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