Despite the pandemic and all-time-high prices of raw materials, the construction industry has consistently grown in the past few years and that momentum is very likely to continue over the next few years.
You might be thinking about pursuing a career as a general contractor to take advantage of this boom or you might want to take your DIY home improvements to the next level.
Just like any other career, being a general contractor requires careful planning, time, and effort to learn the right skills. You’ll be responsible for big projects that involve clients’ money and trust.
Read on and see if you have what it takes to be a general contractor.
What Is a General Contractor?
In construction terms, a general contractor is a person or a team that is responsible for supervising all aspects of a construction or remodeling project every day from start to finish.
These aspects include securing permits, purchase of materials and hiring and overseeing subcontractors such as electricians, carpenters and plumbers.
General contractors are responsible for the workflow on the construction site. If something goes wrong, the general contractor is responsible for fixing the problem.
Types of Contractors
There are two types of general contractors:
- Traditional contractors
A traditional contractor manages projects that have already been designed by a designer or an architect. The contractor will supervise the building of the project plan.
- Design-build contractors
A design-build contractor is a team of professionals who work as one entity under one contract.
They are responsible for planning and designing the construction project and building it. These contractors have in-company designers and architects.
What Are a General Contractor’s Skills?
There is a specific set of skills needed to be an effective general contractor. These skills are vital to completing each construction project successfully.
Contractors lead the construction process and they work closely with both clients and workers. For the clients, the contractors should be able to understand what the client wants and communicate to them about the development of the project.
They also interact with other professionals working on the project such as the architects, engineers and subcontractors. A good line of communication will prevent any miscommunication that may compromise the project.
Supervising workers is also part of the job, and the contractor must ensure that workers are doing their assigned tasks accordingly.
A general contractor must have adequate training and experience in a variety of construction services like carpentry, roofing, plumbing, HVAC and using power tools and construction equipment.
Some individual general contractors help in actual construction work. But even if they’re not the ones performing the tasks directly, these building skills and knowledge help in checking the quality of the work being done.
There is a great deal of problem-solving required for any construction project. These situations might be the result of wrong measurements, safety issues, accidents or project delays. These issues have to be addressed as soon as possible for the project to stay on track.
A general contractor has to think quickly and make decisions to identify the best solutions.
A general contractor manages a construction project that involves people, time and budgets.
Supervising the workers according to their trades and completing the project according to the specified timeframe and within the budget are all part of a contract.
Good project management skills are key to fulfilling this.
What Are the Roles and Responsibilities of a General Contractor?
The general contractor plays a major part in a construction project. An aspiring individual must be familiar with the role and responsibilities that come with this career path.
A team of skilled and professional individuals like engineers, architects, and others work together to accomplish a construction project successfully.
An effective general contractor knows how to work with the team so procedures are executed accordingly. How is this achieved?
- Managing the submittal procedures
Submittals procedure refers to the process of how the subcontractors inform the design team regarding the materials to be used in the construction and how they will execute the project.
General contractors will act like a bridge between them. They review the submittals which include drawings, product information, manuals, warranty, and certifications from contractors.
They must make sure that these materials will match the design team’s request and submit it to them.
Once the design team has approved the submittals, the general contractor will be notified. He can then inform the subcontractors to begin the construction.
- Project risk management
Risks are everywhere, and managing them is paramount, especially in construction projects. A general contractor works closely with the client and the rest of the team to mitigate them. What should they do?
Let’s look at the two steps briefly.
- Assigning priorities to risks – The general contractor helps in identifying the inherent risks in a construction project from planning to executing. These risks include safety hazards, budget risks, and legal and project risks. It’s important for the contractor to see which has the highest probability and the biggest impact so they’ll know which to prioritize.
- Developing strategies to mitigate these risks – Once risks have been identified, steps to prevent them from happening or reducing their impact should be taken. This includes keeping the design process on track, managing the budget strictly, utilizing dedicated legal assistance, and dealing with changes in stakeholders’ requests.
- Building Information Modeling (BIM)
Building Information Modeling (BIM) is technology-based 3D modeling that gives tools and scope to effectively plan, design, construct and manage projects. Cloud-based BIM allows general contractors, engineers, designers and clients to determine issues in the construction project and address them quickly.
- Managing work-related alterations
Sometimes, changes happen during the construction period. They may be changes in the design like the addition or deletion of some areas.
They could also be regarding the prices of materials which will impact the contract itself. The general contractor should be on top of the situation.
There are also other areas of a construction project that a general contractor leads. These include:
- Scheduling the entire project workflow
Assess all of the procedures and identify milestones to make an accurate construction schedule. An organized workflow will ensure that the project will be finished on time and within the budget.
- Employing and managing the subcontractors
Sub-contractors specialize in certain aspects of the construction such as plumbing. Managing them and evaluating whether they complete the work required of them is the responsibility of the general contractor.
- Supervising the project performance
The general contractor makes sure that everyone is working according to their assigned task and at an ideal pace to complete a quality project on time.
- Ensuring safety precautions are duly taken
The general contractor must identify the health and safety hazards in every area and aspect of the worksite. Common construction-related risks are falling, tripping, building collapses, electricity hazards, construction dust and moving equipment.
After identifying the risks, the general contractor must think of who is the most at risk at a particular hazard.
For example, the operator of a cement mixer is prone to inhaling the cement dust and accidents involving the mixer.
The general contractor should study and measure the probability of a particular risk happening. They will then try to assess the impact even before it happens.
- Ensuring operational adherence to the contract documents
In construction, the goal is to finish the structure with high quality, within the timeframe and within the budget.
These aspects are written into the contract and if it’s not followed, it will result in a loss of profit and the business will fail.
General Contractor Qualifications & Licensing Requirements
What Qualifications Do General Contractors Need?
A combination of experience and knowledge in construction, education, and a contractor’s license are the key ingredients to becoming a general contractor. Let’s dig into them one by one:
- Experience and knowledge
Work experience can help an individual advance to become a general contractor. Gain experience by working as a carpenter, plumber or electrician.
Local employers sometimes give opportunities to aspiring individuals by hiring interns. The experience will help you master the whole system of construction and learn practical aspects that aren’t taught in school.
A minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent is required to become a general contractor. However, it must be backed by substantial work experience.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) mentions that big construction firms still prefer hiring applicants with construction experience and construction-related bachelor’s degrees.
College degrees that you may consider are civil engineering, construction management, or architecture.
A bachelor’s degree or associate’s degree in accounting and business management is helpful in the aspects of running a construction business.
What Are the Licensing Requirements for a General Contractor?
The United States does not have a unitary license requirement for general contractors. Nonetheless, many states establish their own distinct licensing procedures for aspiring individuals.
The Licensing Board for General Contractors issues the license. You will need a license for a residential project that costs more than $10,000 and a general construction project with over $50,000. The fee for the application is $300.
The California Contractors State License Board issues general contractor licenses, especially for any construction work that costs more than $500. The applicant needs four years of experience in construction to qualify for the exam. The license should be renewed every two years.
New Jersey state doesn’t require a license for general contractors, but you need to secure a home building license to do any home improvement jobs. For commercial general contractors, it’s the city or the county that issues their licenses.
Just like New Jersey, there is not a state license for general contractors in New York. Usually, it is the local government that asks for licensing requirements. Make sure to check the local requirement before starting to work.
No state license is needed unless you do over $5,000 worth of home projects in a single year.
To work in Virginia, you need a state-issued license from the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation. There are also different classifications of license here – Residential Building Contractor and Commercial Building Contractor.
Although there is no state licensing in Washington, one has to register at the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. Additionally, you need to pass an exam and show proof of a surety bond amounting to $12,000.
A license is issued only at the city and county levels.
Frequently Asked Question (FAQs)
Q: What’s the difference between a general contractor, construction manager, owner, and subcontractor?
A: A general contractor leads in the actual construction of the building. A construction manager has almost the same responsibilities as a general contractor but typically gives input during the designing phase and works with the design team.
The subcontractor specializes in one area of construction like plumbing, masonry, steelworks, and many others. The owner is the person financing the construction of the building and the one who hires the services of the professions mentioned above.
Q: How much do general contractors earn?
A: According to Fieldwire.com, most general contractors make between $70,000 and $95,000 annually.
Q: What’s the difference between a builder’s and contractor’s license?
A: Having a contractor’s license allows a person to do bigger construction projects. A builder’s license is limited to residential home remodeling and improvement.
Q: When should you hire a general contractor?
A: Hire a contractor if the project will take a week or more to complete, if there are several permits that should be secured, and if you will need to hire different subcontractors.
A general contractor has several roles within the different phases of a construction project. They need to be able to deal with uncertainties and have quick decision-making skills.
The job requires dedication and effort but if done diligently, it can be an exciting and profitable career.
Looking to learn more about this field? Read our articles about common construction risks and how contractors can avoid them, or when to upgrade your construction equipment.