Becoming a Building Contractor: Salary Info & Job Description

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

Building contractors, also called construction managers or general contractors, perform construction and renovation on external and internal elements of homes and non-residential structures. Below is a list of the pros and cons associated with a building contractor career to help you decide if this is the right choice for you.

Pros of Becoming a Building Contractor
High income potential (experienced contractors earn as much as $110,000)**
Self-employment opportunities (approximately two-thirds are self-employed)*
Above-average job growth (16% from 2012-2022)*
Growing opportunities in sustainable construction*

Cons of Becoming a Building Contractor
Extensive experience required for state licensure*
Potential for periods of unemployment during slow economic growth*
Deadline-driven work with potential for long hours*
Liability and worker's compensation insurance requirements (up to $3 million for personal injury and property damage)***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com, ***CityofChicago.org

Career Information

Job Duties, Career Outlook and Salary Information

Building contractors are often skilled specialty contractors themselves. With additional training in small business management, many contractors choose to apply for a general contractor state license, which often refers to the dollar amount of a particular project or bid for a specific project. In many states, this is referred to as a Class B license, which allows you to work on projects with a minimum and maximum project cost. Generally, building contractors subcontract work to various professional contractors to complete plumbing, electrical, roofing, glazing, heating and air-conditioning tasks as well as various other aspects of a construction project.

Building contractors prepare estimates and bids for clients that seek construction or renovation to existing properties. Projects valued beyond the maximum amount allowed for Class B contractors require a Class A, or construction engineering, license. Building contractors often possess specific skill licensure and might choose to complete this portion of the project themselves. Other work is assigned to sub-contractors who are paid out of the general bid for the project. Building contractors often assume the role of construction manager or foreman, overseeing the work of subcontractors and laborers. As a building contractor, you will most likely need some training in construction planning, including computer-aided design or blueprint development.

Job Outlook and Salary Info

Construction managers, based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2012-2022 projections, should see an employment increase of 16%. Opportunities for construction manager are present throughout the country, with the top five states employing construction managers being Texas, California, Florida, New York, and Ohio, respectively.

Incomes for building contractors vary based on experience and location. The BLS reports a mean salary of about $94,590 for construction managers as of May 2014. Based on a Payscale.com survey of building contractors with Class B-1 licenses, top earners made more than $110,000; however, these license holders earned a median annual salary of about $59,738.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Licensure Requirements

Although many states do not require any formal postsecondary education, in order to stay competitive, many building contractors seek some college training. The Occupational Information Network (O*NET) reports that 66% of construction managers earn a bachelor's degree.

State licensure is required for professional contracting throughout the country. Generally, obtaining a contractor's license requires you to first obtain 'journey' experience. California, for example, requires four years of journey experience before you can apply for the Class B general contractor license. In order to become a building contractor, you might also have to explain any previous violations or liens involved with your business or contracting work. You also need to obtain and carry a minimum amount of liability and worker's compensation insurance.

Skills

To work as a building contractor, you need to have certain skills to help you keep on top of the various tasks and personnel involved in a construction project. Examples include good managerial and time-management skills as well as the ability to think critically and make decisions quickly. The ability to speak clearly is also important when dealing with personnel and clients.

Real Job Listings for Building Contractors

While many building contractors work independently of a parent organization, you can find work with a construction or building management company. Here are some real examples of job listings from March 2010 for contractors with varying levels of experience required:

  • National lending company seeks independent field construction estimator in Houston, TX. Job requires travel to several different states to plan and propose property renovations. Requirements include three years of estimating experience plus knowledge of AutoCAD and similar software. Pays up to $120,000 per year.
  • Florida property management company seeks general contractor/manager to provide strategic planning and oversight of property construction and renovation. Three to five years of experience working with building codes, violation abatement, subcontractors, surveys and permits required. Pays $50,000 to $55,000 per year.
  • Consulting firm in San Francisco, CA, seeks full-time general contractor with extensive experience with reports and regulations. Requirements include 4-year degree plus 15 years of contracting experience.

How to Get Ahead in Your Career as a Building Contractor

Additional Education

Although postsecondary education isn't required for professional licensure, you might choose to pursue an associate's or bachelor's degree in construction science or a related field. Programs that feature an emphasis in construction management, industrial and design technology, architecture, building safety or code administration can be helpful. Training in computer-aided design (CAD) technology can be necessary or useful when working with architects and designers.

Sustainable Building Technology

As the fields of sustainable design and sustainable construction grow, contractors that are adept at utilizing renewable materials and incorporating energy efficient designs should be highly sought after. In California, for example, the Public Utilities Commission has set a goal of net zero energy use in all new construction and renovation by the year 2020. Many postsecondary professional certificate programs are geared toward sustainable or green building. Green builders cut costs for businesses and residences by creating energy efficient designs. They help conserve natural resources by using renewable materials, and they also promote health by reducing waste and toxins as well as by improving air quality.

Alternative Careers in Building

Architect

If you are increasingly interested in design aspects of building rather than construction, you may consider a career as an architect. According to the BLS 2010-2020 projections, employment for architects is expected to increase by 24%. Like building contractors, professional architects are required to obtain state licensure wherever they practice.

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) offers professional certification for state-licensed architects with a 4-year degree from a National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB) program. Many schools offer 5-year professional degree programs in architecture that include CAD training and courses on different aspects of construction. While many architects work for architectural firms, 24% are self-employed. Based on BLS 2011 data, architects earned a mean salary of about $79,000.

Building Inspector

If you are more interested in ensuring that the details and specifications of a construction project are correct than the project overall, you might be interested in becoming a building inspector. The BLS reports an average growth in job opportunities for professional building inspectors over the coming years. Building inspectors examine the interiors and exteriors of structures to ensure compliance with state and local building codes. Building inspectors also follow construction regulations maintained by the International Code Council (ICC).

Most building inspectors are employed by local government agencies and architectural or engineering firms. Licensure requirements can include a minimum number of supervised home inspections or the completion of an approved program of study. In addition to building inspection programs, many building inspectors choose to pursue a degree in engineering, construction technology or architecture. According to BLS 2011 data, these professionals earned a mean salary of about $55,000.

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