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How to Become a General Contractor

Majors Overview January 24, 2013

General contractors who are often called construction managers perform the coordination and oversee construction projects from beginning to end. Such construction projects may involve office premises and residences apart from infrastructure projects such as schools, hospitals, roads or bridges. As part of their duties, a general contractor manages the project budget, hires staff members and supervises contractors and laborers, keeps the project on schedule, solves problems, and coordinates with engineers and architects among other project leaders. A general contractors understanding and complying with all applicable regulations and safety codes are critical to ensure that structures are permitted.

In addition to work experience, an aspiring general contractor will depend on higher education to improve his/her career prospects. Such education will mean either an associate or bachelor degree program in construction management. An associate degree holder will require several years of work experience before they can seek a general contractor position. A bachelor degree holder will need to work as an assistant before they are given a promotion to a general contractor. Certification is not mandatory, but will be useful to getting employment.

Voluntary certification will be beneficial along with two to seven years of experience in the field. General contractors are expected to have personal initiative alongside decision making, time management and communication skills. They also need some communication skills especially proficiency with Excel and other spreadsheet software programs, and construction software, as for instance, Timberline. They need technical skills that are required in interpreting contracts, reading technical drawings and blueprints, apart from being abreast with the latest construction technology (sources: Monster.com job ads (Jul 2012), U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Salary.com).

The following is a step-by-step guide that should be followed by candidates who are planning a career in this field.

Stage One: Earning an Undergraduate Degree

Employers give preference to general contractors who have experience combined with education; such education should be in the form of a bachelor degree in a construction-related area of concentration like architecture, construction engineering or construction management (source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Students opting for these majors get trained in business, construction and design and also gain practical experience through participation in internships. Contracting, risk management, estimating, blueprint reading, surveying, sustainability, and construction materials are among the specific topics covered in the coursework. Those who are already employed in the construction industry would improve their opportunities for advancement with an associate degree in construction technology or construction management. Contracts, building codes, project scheduling and accounting are the areas of focus in associate degree programs. Students are taught construction techniques such as framing, finishing and roofing, alongside instruction on operating machinery, using construction tools, estimating project costs, and reading blueprints.

Candidates can stick with an associate degree, if they are not comfortable with completing a bachelor degree; entry level work in the construction industry can be held with an associate degree in construction management. Once students have graduated, they can transfer the credits earned towards a bachelor degree at a later date. In school, a focus on energy efficiency and sustainability will hold students in good stead given the growing use of green technology for both new projects and retrofitting work that are completed on existing infrastructure including both private sector work as well as government projects such as dams, airports, bridges, sewers and roads.

Stage Two: Getting Management Experience

Students can assist an experienced general contractor and garner hands on training that will help them gravitate to a management position. In such assisting work, students may be required to oversee purchasing orders, track permits, collect documents and keep general contractors abreast of any issues.

Stage Three: Obtaining Certification

National certification may not be required, but may help underscore a general contractor’s professional credentials in terms of skills and knowledge. The Construction Management Association of America offers the Certified Construction Manager (CCM) credential. Completion of a self-study course and passing a technical exam are required in order to earn this designation. The American Institute of Contractors also offers additional certifications. General contractors who satisfy the experience norms can pursue the Certified Professional Contractor (CPC) and Associate Constructor (AC) credentials.

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