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How to Become a Contractor

If being your own boss and making your own work schedule is something that appeals to you, then you may want to consider becoming a contractor. General contractors oversee building constructions by managing subcontractors and ensuring that each construction phase is successfully completed. Whether as part of a small firm or as a sole trader, once you become a contractor you generally have the chance to choose your clients and work by your rules. Obtaining the relevant qualifications and licensing is not difficult and if you have decided that this is the right job for you, you might even enjoy the process.

Education and Training

When you’re entering the contractor’s field or decide to move up the ladder and establish your own business, there are certain skills that you should learn and qualifications that you could obtain to make your journey smoother and even more rewarding.


Although it is not required, having a degree in construction management will certainly prove to be useful when looking to be hired by a contracting firm or to start your own business. Certification and special training will also come in handy, not to mention that the more years of experience you gather in the field, the more you will most likely succeed when seeking employment.


Working closely with an experienced contractor for a while will provide you with the necessary knowledge, skills and experience to immerse yourself in the job with confidence, while ridding yourself of stress. Such on-the-job experience will render you more desirable to any employer and will give you the management ability needed to keep records and handle projects when you decide to run your own business.


Certification to become a contractor is not required, but it certainly demonstrates expertise in the field. If you are interested in getting contractor certification, then you can do so through the Construction Management Association of America. You will be expected to complete an online course and take an exam before you can become a Certified Construction Manager (CCM). The conditions that apply to attaining certification will vary according to your qualifications and experience. For those with a bachelor's degree, four years of construction management experience is necessary before being allowed to take the test. For those without a degree, eight years of working in construction, plus three years of management are necessary before being allowed to sit for the test. The test is split into two parts. Each part lasts three hours. The first part covers general knowledge of design and construction management -primarily cost and time of project (36% of the overall grade) and professional practice (8%). The second part covers CM services, including project management (20%), contract administration (18%), quality (10%) and safety and risk (8%). All applicants will have three sittings to pass the test. For this reason, it is highly advised that the right preparation is taken. For effective preparation, you are expected to cover the materials in the CCM Examination Study Guide, the Standard Practice Study Kit, the Professional Review Course and the Chapter Review Course. You should give special attention to the purpose and content of a CM plan, risk management, contract administrating, budgeting and recovery schedules. All of this can be found on the Construction Manager Association of America's website.

Desired Skills

Great communication skills and a proven ability to meet deadlines and work as part of a team are highly appreciated in the field. Solid decision making skills as well as IT proficiency and technical knowledge in construction technology and blueprints never go unnoticed either.

Getting a Contractor License

There are three types of contractor licensing that you may wish to earn. General contractor licensing allows for construction, demolition and repairs. General engineering licensing is for work that involves water piping, heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, carpentry, masonry and so on. Finally, specialty contractor licenses cover more dangerous work usually concerning residential remodelling projects. Because the requirements for earning any of the contractor licenses listed above vary greatly from state to state, make sure you check what the criteria in your area are before you proceed.

Basic Requirements

All states require that you are at least 18 years old, have completed high-school and hold a a United States citizenship. No experience or specific knowledge in contracting is necessary during this first stage towards getting your licensing in some states, but in others you may be asked to meet several other expectations. In California, for example, you are asked to pass the State Certification Exam, and have at least $2500 in working capital, as well as work experience within the last ten years. In Nevada, there are no education requirements, but specific training received by an accredited college or university can replace up to 3 years of experience working in the field. You will also be required to produce a minimum of four reference certificates for each trade qualifier.

Further Requirements

In some cases you may be asked to take an exam on construction law or to provide evidence that you are experienced in the field you wish to apply to, in order to earn a license. As mentioned in the Nevada example above, solid references from past clients or employers will also come in handy, so ask for recommendation letters from those who were left impressed by your services.

Licensing Fees

There are usually fees that you have to pay to get your contractor’s license, so have a look at your state’s Department of Labor & Industries to find out how much relevant licensing costs in the area that you are based in.  

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