How To Become a Licensed Contractor (With Career FAQs)

Updated February 3, 2023

Construction workers working together at a work site.

Contractors are skilled professionals who work in the construction industry, managing building projects for residential and commercial properties. There are dozens of different paths to pursue as a contractor—given the various specialties in the field, from acoustical installation to welding parts. If you’re interested in helping structures from the ground up, you may want to learn about the contractor’s career and what the steps are to become one.

In this article, we’ll explore the role of contractors and how to become one, plus take a look at other aspects of the job, such as what they typically earn, the job outlook for those in construction and the skills contractors need to succeed.

What is a contractor?

There are two types of contractors: general and specialty. When choosing your career path, you’ll want to consider which type of contractor you’d like to work as and work toward in your education, training and experience.

  • General contractor: General contractors, who are often compared to construction managers, oversee building projects. They usually manage a team of specialists. They are familiar with all aspects of a construction project, from the budgeting of materials to overseeing site safety.

  • Specialty contractor: A specialty contractor is a skilled tradesperson whose work involves special skill and know-how to complete a particular job, such as welding. There are dozens of different specialties specialty contractors can train for. In California, for example, there are 60.

Related: Q&A: Should I Be an Employee or Independent Contractor?

How to become a contractor

A contractor can work with a variety of projects, including new residential homes or commercial buildings. General contractors can choose to work in a physical construction role or a supervisory one, and opt to remodel or to renovate. It’s not unusual for specialty contractors to work independently.

1. Education

A high school education or equivalent is the basic education needed to become a contractor. Some contractors, however, go on to complete an associate degree or bachelor’s degree, especially if they’re looking into management or are undecided about their career path while in school.

A college degree usually takes four years to complete, and an aspiring contractor’s coursework may include—but not be limited to—structural science, building, economics, statistics and other financial aspects. A few schools offer different degrees in development and management. Some contractors might decide to pursue an advanced degree as well, to be a more competitive job candidate or to move into more senior level roles.

Related: How To Become a Construction Manager

2. Training

While in school, you may want to start exploring hands-on training to apply what you’re learning in your studies, as well as to bolster the experience section of your resume. Consider taking on the role of an apprentice during this time, which will allow you to learn from a more seasoned professional and build your network for career guidance and asking industry questions.

Related: What Are Apprenticeships in Carpentry?

3. Licensure

All contractors should become licensed contractors in their state. The first step in this process is to contact your state's contractor licensing board. To find the licensing board in your state, check your state department online. There, you’ll find the licensure requirements for the type of contractor you want to become.

Most states will require you to pass an exam in order to obtain licensing. Make sure to familiarize yourself with current building codes and the state laws relating to construction and contracting and business management education.

Related: How To Become a Builder in 7 Steps

4. Experience

If you choose not to pursue further schooling after a certain point in your academic career, having relevant work experience will help. Each state has a minimum requirement for expertise to obtain licensure. It's also important to work with licensed contractors to help meet your state's requirements.

Related: 8 Construction Certifications To Advance Your Career

5. Job search

After completing the necessary education and training in your pursuit of a career as a contractor, search and apply for jobs in the field. Consider the geographical area you want to live and work in, the salary you'd like to earn and whether you'd like to be a residential or commercial contractor.

It's essential to develop a well-written resume that highlights your training, knowledge and experience as a general or specialty contractor. Once you secure an interview, prepare and practice common interview questions.

Related: How To Get a Construction Job

Frequently asked questions

What’s the average salary for contractors?

The average national salary for a general contractor is $65,422 per year. Contractor salaries may vary depending on a candidate's level of education and experience in the field, as well as their specialization and any relevant certifications. Employment type, industry and geographical location could also impact potential earnings, as do potential overtime hours.

For the most up-to-date information from Indeed, please click on the salary link above.

What’s the job outlook for construction?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts expanded activity in the construction industry in the decade between 2021 and 2031. The stats bureau points to new construction for homes, office buildings, hospitals and schools and commerce. In addition, the push by the government to improve infrastructure nationally should also be a contributing factor.

Is continuing education required for contractors?

Yes, and no. This will largely depend on your state, or even, the county you operate your business in. To keep your contractor license in good standing, and to remain up-to-date on all new industry standards, policies and practices, your state may require you to complete continuing education, or CE, before you can renew your license.

Check with your contractor licensing board to learn about your specific state requirements. Even if you’re not required to, however, continuing education is a proper way to keep improving as a contractor and keep yourself as marketable as possible.

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