Become a General Contractor

Julie Shenkman
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So what qualifications do you need to be a general contractor? Well it is the kind of job that requires nothing and everything. Nothing because there's no formal education that is often needed to be a general contractor. Everything because it is a skill that often takes years to learn. License requirements vary in each State too.

A general contractor to begin with is a person who can work with blue prints, is there when a job begins, surveys the land the project is on, reevaluates the job at different phases to keep the job on tract like a navigator in an aircraft, keeps the project on budget, orders the material for the project, has management skills and hires the labor. You get it. This person is -as Truman might have put it- where the buck stops.

Now a general contractor doesn't need to be able to do all aspects of the job as he or she can hire sub-contractors to do different parts of the job like the electrical or masonry which he or she can’t do because of time constraints. There may also be a certain job needed to be done that is perhaps more exotic and out of his or her area of expertise which the contractor let's a sub-contractor more qualified in that area do. Too because of the mountains of new regulations, there may be added license or union requirements that the general contractor now does not meet, but which a sub-contractor does. Still, the general contractor must know if the jobs that the sub-contractors do is within tolerance of good standards.

To know this, often a general contractor will have a college degree in architecture, surveying or construction science. The contactor will more than likely have years of experience in all aspects of the job and have been a carpenter, a mason, an electrician and/or a plumber.

In addition to a general contractor's license, there may be permits needed for different aspects of contracting. This can include building permits or environmental clearances. Laws vary state to state. The work that general contractors do can range from the smallest of home projects where contractors do their own work and are masters of many trades to the building of a neighborhood development of homes. Often it is industrial in nature.

Even when hiring a general contractor for projects that may stretch out for years, developers prefer to hire contractors as non-employees because it's easier to release a person if they are not an employee when the need arises. The contractor in these cases would then be responsible to pick up his or her insurance and benefits packages. This would all be priced into the contract the general contractor received though.

When hiring a contractor, there are free services on line in most States that allow a license check. A contractor; of course, should have pictures of prior jobs done and also have references. If the job involves large sums of money, there are firms that will bond parties, contractor and developer, to insure completion and payment for services rendered.

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Jeffrey Ruzicka is a retired executive with a small company that specializes in industrial water treatment. He lives happily with his wife in Western Pennsylvania and is a contributing writer to ManufacturingWorkersBlog, a Nexxt blog.


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  • Marc Cohn
    Marc Cohn
    I could not refrain from commenting. Very well written!
  • Michelle Huisman
    Michelle Huisman
    Loved your article Julie, My dad has been a general Contrator for his entire life.  I have helped with some aspects and he has told me for years I have a flare for this type of work..Your post had made me say...hmmm what if I did continue in his foot steps?? Thank-you again Michellep.s. I'm in Canada
  • Gerald G
    Gerald G
    Sometimes it seems explanations are far to hard to understand rather than simplified statements. You have hit the nail on the head. You have supplied all the info necessary for a person to understand what it takes to be a General Contractor. I myself have Contracted as a General and Subcontractor.  Postions are simular in discussion however being a General Contractor demands much more effort, knowledge,fortitude,patience,confidence and the list goes on.Again thanks for your input.
  • Mr Bruce H
    Mr Bruce H
    I see un-licensed contractors working all the time. I have had a Florida State Certified Contractors license for 30 years.

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