The construction industry is incredibly exciting for those who are ambitious, entrepreneurial, and eager to see the fruit of their work in the real world. Job growth in construction is expected to be significantly above average in the near future, thanks to a significant gap between the number of workers employed in the sector and the need for them. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that employment within construction will grow by 10 percent over the next decade—and that’s coming on top of steady growth that started around 2010.
Demand from both the public and private sectors fuels the construction industry. The United States must upgrade or replace aging infrastructural buildings, and incorporate the latest advances in construction materials and technology into existing buildings. The COVID-19 pandemic—while forcing a pause in the global economy—may also lead to new streams of construction work, as commercial and residential real estate will need to adapt to new realities. The constantly evolving preferences of American homeowners also assure a steady supply of work, both building new houses and adapting older ones.
Among the different roles in the construction industry, general contractors are central to turning plans into completed projects. They oversee construction sites with responsibilities (alongside the architect) for the building schedule, coordinating with subcontractors such as MEP engineers, and managing the site’s crews.
While many building contractors have bachelor’s degrees in related fields (such as engineering or construction management), a degree in construction management is not required for the position—in fact, on-the-job experience is generally valued more than a diploma. Most general contractors learn their trade on site, observing how successful general contractors assure that their projects run smoothly and safely.
A typical career path to becoming a general contractor might look like this:
As professional builder Jordan Smith explains, the path to becoming a general contractor can begin with simply demonstrating initiative.
“If you're not currently working in the trades, but you're looking at making that transition into becoming a tradesman in residential construction, and you're looking to get a job,” he says, “my highest recommendation is go out, talk to builders on their projects. You're going to be able to look over the project manager's shoulder and see how the prints relate to an actual build. You're going to be able to learn a ton.”
In the U.S., individual states—not the federal government—set license requirements for contractors and the rules vary from state to state. While most require contractor licenses, there are many that do not (among them Florida and New York). Note though that even in states where general contractors don’t need to be licensed, some subcontractors working on, say, electrical or plumbing may need to take a licensing exam and then be licensed.
There are other requirements to be aware of, even if a license isn’t mandatory. For example, in New York state, general contractors must still register and provide proof of insurance. Cities within the state, like New York City, also have licensing boards that require that contractors are licensed.
In California, a state where general contractors are required to be licensed, you’ll have to have four year’s experience as a foreman, supervisor, or contractor (under the supervision of a licensed contractor), have a license bond, and pass exams on the trade and on business and legal requirements.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction managers, which includes general contractors, earn a median salary of $95,260 a year. Contractor earnings will vary depending on the local market and the scope of the project.
MT Copeland offers video-based online classes that give you a foundation in construction fundamentals with real-world applications. Classes include professionally produced videos taught by practicing craftspeople, and supplementary downloads like quizzes, blueprints, and other materials to help you master the skills.
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