Reaching the top of the profession as an electrician or a plumber means a lot of work and a lot of studying so you can pass multiple exams and earn the rank of “Master.” It’s no small feat, to be sure. But what does it take to be a general contractor? Is it a case of “Jack of all trades, master of none?”
What Does a General Contractor Do?
When you hang out your shingle as a general contractor, it says something about your skill level. You’re the guy (or gal) who knows enough about everything to ensure that a building project will go off without a hitch and that your structure will pass every inspection, from footing to occupancy.
You know the building codes for your area, as well as the business end of things. You may even do the hiring and the firing, depending on the size of your company. You’re the general go-to when it comes to new construction projects, serious remodeling or major add-ons.
Do I Need a License?
General contractors are one of the least regulated members of the trades. In some states, they only require a business license and Worker’s Compensation insurance to go into business (and that last requirement is optional if you only hire family). In other states, like Arkansas, you can get certified in a number of different areas, including new residential construction, residential remodeling, and commercial construction, but you must obtain a license in the area in which you’ve chosen to work and pass a business and law exam.
What Education is Helpful?
You’ll find that in states that require exams and education, there’s no avoiding bookwork, but if you’re in a state that doesn’t ask you to jump through a lot of hoops, you’d still be ahead of the game to at least put in the effort to get yourself a two-year business degree and a mentor in the construction field.
As a general contractor, there will always be new technology and tools that you’re going to be expected to keep up with, as well as maintaining relevant experience in your particular area of the industry. For example, if you’re a new home builder, you’ll need to stay on top of the market for your kind of house, which may include specialty knowledge from areas as diverse as green energy, smart home technology and the latest in tile grout.
You can also get a four-year degree in construction technology, which will serve you well if you want to work in the commercial part of the sector or under a bigger residential umbrella. As a one-man band, you’ll want to focus on business management, some basic bookkeeping, and marketing. Making friends with your area Realtors also won’t hurt you a bit.
What Am I Forgetting?
You’re forgetting thousands upon thousands of dollars in tools, vehicles, safety gear, and insurance. You may find that you also need a loan to help get you on your way. If you’re already working with a contractor, this is a good time to do a little moonlighting (within what the local laws allow based on your license status). Small remodeling jobs can be a great way to build up savings for a bright future in construction.
General contractors have some of the widest ranges of anyone in the industry. After all, they have to know when a framer has framed a truss wrong, the roofer has installed the drip edge improperly and even when the brickwork isn’t up to par. Despite it, they also enjoy long and prosperous careers, as long as they stay up with current trends while keeping an eye to the future.