Becoming a Contractor: Job Description & Salary Info

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

Contractors, sometimes called general contractors, independent contractors or construction managers, are responsible for the planning, budgeting and supervision of construction projects of various sizes. To learn a bit more about the pros and cons of a career as a contractor or construction manager, keep reading.

Pros of a Contractor Career
Good salary relative to training requirements (average salary of about $95,000)*
Solid expected job growth (16% from 2012-2022)*
Lead a team of subcontractors and laborers*
Ability to make own decisions**

Cons of a Contractor Career
Deadlines and delays can lead to high amounts of stress*
Long hours may include on-call duty*
May need to manage several large projects at one time*
Heavy workload of coordinating workers and schedules**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*Net Online.

Essential Career Information

Common Duties

Contractors and construction managers supervise a wide variety of projects, from residential structures and commercial locations to schools and hospitals. After negotiating the cost of a project with a client, a contractor must then hire workers and coordinate their schedules. While working as a contractor or construction manager, you'll work closely with building specialists like architects and engineers. You may be responsible for multiple building projects at once. As a contractor, you may work for a construction management company or be self-employed. According to the BLS, in 2010 about 66% of contractors were self-employed.

A very important aspect of a contractor's job is making sure that a project is completed on time and within budget. Contractors and construction managers need to know what equipment and materials will be needed for a project in order to set a budget properly. Maintaining a safe work environment is another important duty of contractors and construction managers.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

As of May 2014, the BLS reported an average annual salary of about $95,000 for construction managers. The BLS projects fairly strong job growth for construction managers in the near future, with overall employment estimated to increase by about 16% from 2012-2022. Job prospects should be particularly good for those with construction experience and a degree in a related field.

Requirements

For most construction manager positions, an associate's or bachelor's degree in construction science or construction management is preferred. Several years of construction experience is also required. If you have only a high school education combined with construction experience, you might be limited to work as a private general contractor. Certification is typically not required, but options are available and can be a good way to demonstrate your skills and experience. Some states may require contractors to have a license, though requirements vary by state.

You'll need a wide-ranging skill set to succeed as a contractor or construction manager. In order to plan large projects and deal with unexpected delays, you typically need to have sharp analytical and decision-making skills. You'll also need good time-management skills to ensure that each step of a building project can be achieved quickly and properly. Good communication and managerial abilities are also necessary to coordinate the work of the many workers you'll supervise on a project.

What Are Employers Looking For?

If you have construction experience and a degree, you might find work as a contractor in various industries. Job postings from December 2012 may give you an idea of the market for contractors.

  • A staffing firm in Louisiana is looking for a general contractor to supervise various residential and commercial projects. The position requires 5-10 years of experience in project management along with specialized experience with stucco insulation. A bachelor's degree in construction management is required.
  • A construction firm in Florida seeks a supervisor to oversee and coordinate various construction and service projects. The position requires you to maintain a safe work environment while also defining project purpose and scope. Organizational skills are a must. Salary is based on experience.
  • In Illinois, a construction company was looking for a construction manager with five years of construction experience and three years of experience in scheduling, quality control and project leadership. Applicants must have a general contractors license.

Standing Out in the Field

Prospective contractors and construction managers can enhance their qualifications by earning a bachelor's degree in a field such as construction science or construction management. Specializing in a particular area of construction like design or project management might also help you stand out among other candidates. Your job prospects should be especially strong if you have several years of experience in the construction industry combined with a specialized education.

While certification is typically not required to become a contractor or construction manager, becoming certified can be a good way to verify your experience and expertise. The Construction Management Association of America offers the Certified Construction Manager (CCM) credential, while the American Institute of Constructors awards both the Associate Constructor (AC) and Certified Professional Constructor (CPC) designations. Each certification requires work experience and passing scores on technical exams.

Alternate Career Options

If you want to focus your analytical skills in the construction industry, you might want to pursue a career as a cost estimator. Working as a cost estimator involves analyzing data to estimate the time, budget and resources needed to complete a construction project. A bachelor's degree is typically required to work as a cost estimator, and the BLS projects 36% employment growth from 2010-2020. As of May 2011, the BLS reported an average annual salary of about $63,000 for cost estimators.

Working as a civil engineer gives you the opportunity to supervise and coordinate large construction projects. Civil engineers help design and oversee the building of airports, tunnels, dams, bridges and other large projects. You'll need a minimum of a bachelor's degree for entry-level positions in civil engineering, and a master's degree is often required for promotion to management positions. The BLS projects average job growth for civil engineers in the near future, with employment expected to increase by 19% from 2010-2020. The BLS further reported an average annual salary of about $83,000 for civil engineers as of May 2011.

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