General contractors are construction-management jobs. They manage their own crew of builders, or subcontract to other specialty builders who work on carpentry, plumbing, carpet installation, and the like. Though they may subcontract part of their construction work, they hold full responsibility for the finished building.
Though jobs in construction management involve the hands-on work of building, these jobs also demand familiarity with construction law, business administration, and building safety. In fact, general contractors are required to take a state-administered licensure exam before they start their general-contractor practice. That is, they need to attain their licensure before they can bid on work from architectural, engineering, and other design firms. This licensure also measures their knowledge of financial solvency, and may require proof of past construction experience. Occasionally, aspiring contractors who have received violations or citations are immediately disqualified from licensure. In contrast, those who work construction trade jobs are not often required to have licensure, though they often achieve certification.
General contractor jobs work by first bidding for construction jobs put out by architectural, real estate, and engineering firms. Less often, general contractors work with property owners. Firms screen out the bids that best fit their client's budget and contact the general contractor who released that bid. The general contractor then discusses the project with the architect and ultimately signs a construction contract. From that point, the general contractor lines up his building team to begin construction. During this process, they may also hire subcontractors and consultants who can perform the tasks for which his team lacks skills.
Some general contractors are self-employed, while others work for general-contractor firms. If they are self-employed, and have a large-scale project, they hire many subcontractors and apprentices who do the majority of the work. If they work for firms, they are often proficient in a certain construction activity, such as pre-construction building evaluations, budget development, materials analysis, geographical analysis, mechanical engineering services, and other services. Despite the diversity of their work settings, general contractors practice customer service and communications skills since they communicate with clients, and assemble their teams. In addition, they have past construction experience that allows them to manage each building stage and administrative tasks. As the liability-holders for each construction project, they are resourceful problem-solvers.
Early on in their careers, general contractors often choose to specialize in certain building projects. For instance, some may mainly construct shopping malls, while others may construct high schools. For each project, they may contact and subcontract building trades people who have past experience with these buildings. General contractors who specialize in current building trends—such as corporate construction and biotechnology facilities—usually earn the most money. In addition, those who work in urban settings have a wider pool of clients to work with, and will likely earn more than their rural counterparts.
Furthermore, there are general contractors who may specialize in not only construction, but demolition and renovation. For demolition, general contractors hire a crew consisting of crane and bulldozer-drivers. They may be further categorized into residential demolition contractors or commercial demolition contractors. Moreover, renovation or remodeling contractors work with clients who want to rework their homes or businesses. These contractors subcontract trades people who are experienced in refurbishing materials and equipment. Furthermore, they may be hired by government agencies to do historic renovation on landmark buildings.
General contractor careers do not require a college education per se. However, since these are management jobs, many aspiring contractors earn associates or bachelor's degrees in construction management, building construction, and engineering. Experience and physical strength, on the other hand, is an absolute must for contractors. Most contractors have roughly five to ten years of hands-on construction experience before they earn their general contractor's licensure. As the licensure exam stipulates, they are completely familiar with their state's construction laws and safety procedures.
Though any construction job entails huge physical risks, general contractors are well compensated for their work. They are often paid hourly, which amounts to about $70,000 per year. Again, those who specialize in corporate or technology facilities can earn a six-digit salary. However, any contractor can achieve a high success by having construction expertise, good customer-service, and good communications skills. Also essential is the ability to hire a capable building team. Having an excellent building record will earn them many new clients wanting their services.
Job outlook for contractors will be extremely favorable, excepting times of economic recessions. Due to population growth, many contractors will erect new residences, businesses, and industrial facilities. They will also be called on to remodel old buildings, and reconstruct entire neighborhoods in the aftermath of natural disasters. In short, there is no end in sight for general contractor job opportunities.