Becoming a Construction Contractor: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a construction contractor? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a construction contractor is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Construction Contractor Career

Construction contractors, also called construction managers or general contractors, plan and supervise construction projects. If you're interested in becoming a construction manager, read on to learn about the pros and cons associated with this career.

Pros of Being a Construction Manager
Mean annual wage for this field is around $95,000*
Opportunities for self-employment*
Collaborate with other professionals, such as engineers and architects*
Learn about many aspects of the construction industry*

Cons of Being a Construction Manager
Coordinating projects and meeting deadlines may be stressful*
Job growth is expected to be about average (16% between 2012 and 2022)*
Managers who are self-employed must work hard to generate business and attract clients*
May have to simultaneously manage multiple projects*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Construction managers coordinate, supervise and budget all phases of construction projects. They collaborate with a number of building specialists, such as engineers and architects; on larger projects, they may work with other construction managers and focus on one aspect of a larger project. They select the most reasonable strategies and methods of construction and work out timetables for each construction phase. They hire and instruct subcontractors and laborers and work onsite to supervise construction personnel and explain technical information to workers. They're also in charge of budgeting essential tools, materials and equipment.

They must be familiar with various laws and building codes to ensure proper compliance with safety regulations and provide a secure environment for construction workers. Construction managers who are self-employed can attract new clients by marketing their services and bidding on new jobs. Many construction managers have to juggle multiple projects.

Job Growth and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in May 2014 the mean annual wage for construction managers was around $95,000 and the mean hourly wage was about $45.00. The BLS noted that most construction managers work full-time, and some may work extra hours in order to meet deadlines or respond to various contingencies that may arise during construction projects. Approximately 57% of construction managers were self-employed in 2012, and earnings for self-employed managers will vary in accordance with the amount of business they are able to generate. Between 2012 and 2022, employment in this field was expected to rise by 16%, about average among all occupations.

Education and Training Requirements

While there are no mandatory or universal educational requirements for becoming a construction contractor, the BLS mentioned that most have bachelor's degrees in a field related to construction, such as construction engineering or building science. In these programs, students learn about project management, construction materials and methods, cost estimation, design, contract administration and building codes. High school graduates or those with an associate's degree may become construction managers through many years of work experience in the construction trade; these individuals are commonly self-employed. According to the BLS, construction managers who are new to the field are commonly hired as assistants to experienced managers before working independently; depending on the firm, work as an assistant can last up to several months. In general, the following talents and qualities are needed in order to become a construction contractor:

  • A comprehensive understanding of the construction trade and building regulations
  • The ability to coordinate resources, work schedules and project deadlines
  • The skill to interpret and assess technical drawings and construction contracts
  • The capability to compose cogent plans, budgets and proposals for clients
  • The ability to react and adapt to a variety of contingencies that may arise during construction
  • Knack for attracting new clients

Job Postings from Real Employers

Most employers expect construction managers to be knowledgeable about all phases of construction and to have the ability to comply with all building and safety regulations. While many employers require a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, some may be willing to substitute it for relevant work experience. In order to get a better sense of the kinds of jobs available to construction managers, see the following examples of job postings that were open during May 2012:

  • A student housing developer in North Carolina was seeking an experienced construction project manager. This employer required candidates to have a 2-year degree and 2-4 years of relevant work experience. Job duties included managing daily construction operations, developing cost estimates, preparing contract documents, maintaining construction schedules and traveling to remote project locations.
  • A company in Virginia that specializes in delivering natural gas was hiring a construction manager. Candidates were required to have a 4-year degree or equivalent work experience and five years of experience managing construction projects. Candidates were also required to have knowledge of piping systems and underground construction regulations as well as the ability to negotiate business agreements. Job duties included managing construction activities, ensuring compliance with all building and safety regulations, managing personnel and collaborating with other professionals in order to determine efficient and cost-effective construction.
  • A construction company in Arizona was seeking a construction manager. This employer required a high school education and preferred candidates with a degree in construction management. This employer also required at least eight years of residential construction management experience in Arizona. Job duties included supervising laborers and sub-contractors, coordinating inspection processes, scheduling operations and imposing building regulations.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Construction managers can benefit from gaining practical construction experience through long-term jobs, cooperative education programs and internships; work experience may reduce the need for on-the-job training. Another way to stand out in this field is to earn certification. While certification isn't required, the BLS noted that it can validate relevant expertise and experience.

The Construction Management Association of America offers the Certified Construction Manager credential. To earn this certification, construction managers must have 48 months worth of valid experience. In addition, construction managers must hold either a qualifying degree at the bachelor's or graduate level;, a 2-year degree and four years of experience in general design or construction; or no degree and eight years of experience in general design or construction. Managers who meet these requirements must take a special examination to earn certification.

Through the American Institute of Constructors, construction professionals who are entering the field may earn the Associate Constructor (AC) designation. To earn this certification, you must have either four years of qualifying educational experience or four years of relevant work experience, or a combination thereof. More experienced workers may earn the Certified Professional Constructor (CPC) designation, which entails having an AC certification in good standing, four years of qualifying educational or work experience, or a combination thereof. To earn either the AC or CPC designations, you'll have to take special examinations.

Alternative Career Paths


If you're primarily interested in designing buildings and structures, as opposed to managing all phases of construction projects, then you may enjoy a career as an architect. Architects plan buildings through estimating materials, costs and construction time; preparing scaled drawings; and consulting with clients. They may work with other construction professionals, such as construction managers and engineers, in overseeing construction projects. Most architects earn special 5-year degrees or graduate degrees in architecture. All states require architects to be licensed. May 2011 data from the BLS reported the mean annual wage for architects to be almost $80,000 and the mean hourly wage was around $38.00. Job growth was expected to rise by 24% between 2010 and 2020, which is faster than average among all occupations.

Cost Estimator

If you want to specialize in estimating the money, time, labor and resources needed for construction projects or product manufacturing, then you might wish to become a cost estimator. Cost estimators collect and analyze information in order to approximate costs; quantify production time, equipment, labor expenses and other cost factors; and consult with industry experts in order to resolve budget issues and discuss estimates. Cost estimators utilize various software applications to manage databases, simulate operations and perform mathematical functions. Cost estimators are often hired by general contractors for specific parts of larger construction projects. Most workers in this field have bachelor's degrees in an industry-related field, such as building science or construction management. According to the BLS, the mean annual wage for cost estimators in May 2011 was around $63,000 and the mean hourly wage was about $30.00. Between 2010 and 2020, employment was expected to rise by 36% in this field; this is much faster than average among all occupations.

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