How to become a Contractor

This article provides in-depth information into What is a Contractor? What Contractors do? Degrees for Contractors, Steps to become Contractor and much more.

Contractors are specialists in a particular field who furnish and offer goods and services through their company or brand. Contractors enjoy the freedom of independence as they do not work under any particular firm or company, hence what they provide tends to cater to their clients.

What does Contractor do ?

In a general sense, contractors are associated with construction and building, but to be clearer, contractors are categorized into three classifications:

Type / Class “A” - General Engineering Contractors

Contractors from this background are focused on fixed works that require specialized engineering knowledge, experience and skills which include but are not limited to:

  • Environmental projects including hydroelectric projects, earthmoving, and flood control

  • Construction-based operations such as cement and concrete works

  • Transportation systems including railroads, railways, and roadways

  • Biological, biochemical, and hazardous substance disposal systems

  • Delicate operations which handle chemical, utility & power plants and flammable substances

Type / Class “B” - General Building Contractors

Contractors that fall under this classification take responsibility of provision of labor and equipment that may be crucial for the construction of a project. They are authorized to construct, demolish or deconstruct any structure in a city regulated under the building code. In addition to this, they are required to utilize at least two unrelated building trades or crafts in their construction or deconstruction projects. 

Any individuals who merely furnish materials or supplies without being fabricated into the performance of the work of the general building contractor usually do not fall under this classification of contractors.

Type / Class “C” - Specialized Contractors

Generally speaking, they do not fall under any specific definition of Class A or Class B contractors. They deal with operations that gravitate towards the development and improvement of construction-based projects and even completion of particular tasks that require professional oversight and labor skills. These projects may include:

  • Carpentry; Masonry; Painting & decoration

  • Drywall; Concrete and cement works

  • Fireproofing; Asbestos abatement

  • Electricians; Insulation and acoustical

  • Heating, Ventilation & Air-Conditioning (HVAC)

  • Lock & security equipment

  • Metal products; Welding and so on.

Steps for becoming Contractor


Earn A Degree

It’s not mandatory to earn a degree for this line of work. A high school diploma and some work experience will be sufficient to be an efficient contractor, however, a degree can boost your chances of earning higher positions, pay, and even opportunities. You can take a look at the types of degrees to focus on below if you wish to explore the appropriate subjects.


Choose A Classification

Each classification has different opportunities and responsibilities to take up. It’s necessary to brush through all the classifications and explore each other to understand what truly interests you. This step is extremely important because it is a choice that involves working in it long-term, so you have to be content with the jobs you take up.


Apply For A Contractor’s License

Licensing laws vary according to each state in the United States, which is why applying and obtaining a license in one state does not guarantee that you can work in another state. Since contractors are classified according to their work type, you would have to obtain a license according to the classification of contractors you are personally interested in. Usually, it costs up to $200, and the estimated time of arrival is 3 to 4 weeks, except in the case of out-of-state licenses, which may take longer. Keep in mind that it is mandatory to present appropriate documents, including personal documents, as well as to get a thorough background check done to make sure you are eligible to apply for a license beforehand.

There are six kinds of contractor licenses you may obtain:

Class A License

This gives the holder to contract for construction, alteration and/or repair of any kind of structure permitted by the building codes set by the Edgewater Municipal Code. Class A License is required for all work requiring the supervision of an architect or structural engineer. It also permits the activities authorized by Class B and C licenses.

Class B License

The holder of this license is eligible to contract for construction, alteration and repair of one-family or two-family residences that are two stories or less of height. It permits the activities authorized by the Class C license only.

Class C License

Holders of this license will be allowed to engage in contracting for labor and/or material involving specialized trades related to a Specialized Contractor.

Mechanical Contractor License

Those holding this license are eligible to engage in contracting to construct all mechanical systems, largely HVAC and metal sheet work.

Plumbing Contractor License

This is issued to contractors who specialize in plumbing skills or employ other plumbers who possess a valid plumbing license. On rare occasions, this can include work related to heating due to the inclusion of water heaters, but they will mostly deal with renovations, alterations and repairs of water distribution systems in houses and plumbing in general.

Electrical Contractor License

This license is issued to candidates who contract for the repairs, alteration and renovation of electricity-related activities which may include appliances, wiring, lighting, heating, power or signal systems within a building or structure.


Get A Certification (optional)

Obtaining certification is not mandatory for a contractor at all, however, it is encouraged if they want to take their business to the next level. There are three certifications that a contractor can obtain to further advance in their business:

Certified Construction Manager (CCM)

Those with a rich experience and have passed a technical examination may obtain this certification through the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA). A self-study course is offered to applicants as well, which is encouraged by the CCMA, due to its exhaustive detailing of topics related to construction management such as risk assessment, allocation and management, construction management, technical know-hows of labor and equipment, and other critical responsibilities.

Associate Constructor (AC)

A great kicker to a 4-year graduate’s career as a contractor, this certification acts as the first level in the Construction Certification Program. The American Institute of Constructors awards the Associate Constructor (AC) designations to candidates who meet its requirements and pass the appropriate construction exams.

Certified Professional Constructor (CPC)

This is the highest level of certification in the Construction Certification Program. If a contractor wishes to take their career to the next level, then this is the right certification to go for. If a project is assigned a CPC, then there should be a guarantee that the project is in the right hands, due to quality management skills the CPC possesses. This certification is provided for by the American Institute of Constructors again.


Purchase Insurance

Contractors tend to dwell into jobs that involve handling jobs that can be potentially dangerous. Insurance can help protect you from liabilities and cover any losses. In the case of a job failure or unsatisfactory project completion, you could use a surety bond to protect yourself from the loss. In most cases, you will need to show either your insurance purchase or a bond purchase as proof to obtain a license.


Learn On The Job

There’s nothing quite like practical training that you will find in any school, university or program that will teach you the nitty-gritty of a contractor’s career. It’s the most effective way of increasing your skills as a contractor. Most contractors, starting off, would seek a mentor or learn by themselves and look into additional training to achieve their career objectives.

Types of Degrees

As careers in contracting are completely technical by nature, it’s only natural to go for any STEM-based degree that specializes on concepts of mathematics, physics, and engineering. Which is why there are dedicated programs that have a healthy combination of all three fields. However, do note that there is no requirement for a degree to become a contractor, but rather a lot of emphases is given on work experience and a remarkable skill set.

There are plenty of applied certificate programs related to Class C job prospects - such as carpentry, bricklaying and plumbing to list a few - that could help you set your path down your efforts as a skilled laborer. Working your way up and understanding how the business works can be a great way to understand how each component in construction management works. With this knowledge, applying for a contractor’s career can be straightforward and potentially rewarding.

Construction Management 

Construction management teaches you about supervision, management, and budgeting of construction projects from the pre-planning phase to completion. A degree with this can offer the student a chance to explore career positions such as General Contractors and Construction Managers. With a specialization under Construction Management, students are expected to obtain managerial skills such as handling multiple project plans, leading large workforces consistently, meeting deadlines and expectations, communications with the client and consistent planning of constructions and other structures.

Construction Technology

Compared to Construction Management, Construction Technology aims to teach the students about the technical aspects of construction. Students who partake in this course will be taught about innovative tools and methods used during the construction of a project. There is a large involvement of semi-automated and automated construction technologies that help optimize the workflow of the job’s prospects, and that could attract potential tech-savvy candidates to explore and understand the technology to make further advancements.

Students are guaranteed to find jobs as Civil Engineers, Architects, Building Inspectors or Field Engineers - all of which prove to be some of the most technically-driven opportunities to explore.

Note: Aside from degrees, there are plenty of applied certificate programs related to carpentry, woodworks, bricklaying and plumbing that could help you set your path down your efforts as a skilled laborer, through which you could work up and legally apply to become a contractor.

Degree Concentrations

Construction Management

Associate’s Degree

  • Principles of Management - Learning about management, in general, can be beneficial to selecting appropriate staff members and skill laborers for the job, leading and managing projects that are potentially delicate by nature as well as satisfying professional ethics.

  • General Management - Students will be involved in managing projects; from pre-planning phases to completion. They will be prepared to deal with managerial and business-related laws, schedules and be introduced to the essential fundamentals of safety management.

  • Surveying - The fundamentals of construction management involves the use of referential values taken from multiple surveys in order to construct newer structures that follow residential and transportation protocols. With the knowledge of reading surveys, understanding variations and accurately measuring distances, a contractor may benefit from making accurate blueprints and in extension, making structures without compromising on protocols involved.

Bachelor’s Degree

  • Commercial Construction Methods - Students focus on different construction methods that are made to fit a particular setting during planning phases for construction. This can include learning about the requirements of the construction plans, safety protocols used for it, and the appropriate contracts drafted.

  • Safety Management - It is important for the students to learn about the priority of safety given to those involved in the construction of structures, with skilled laborers being the most prominent of persons involved. They will learn about safety protocols, governmental and company-based regulations as well as protective equipment.

  • Contracts, Documentations, and Drafts - Every construction-based contract or job will involve drafting contracts and documents that regulate and bind the two or more involved parties to legal terms and conditions. This is especially important since construction management can involve delicate operations involving many professional persons with invaluable skills. To ensure both safety and trust, consistent drafts must be made. Learning about those is crucial to starting off a contractor’s business.

  • Building Codes - As a seasoned contractor, it’s important to be knowledgeable about building codes. This coursework helps the students understand building codes that may vary according to the career classifications. Handling permits, ordinances and modifications and learning about the development of building codes will help establish a core foundation to construction management.

Master’s Degree

  • Infrastructure and Facility Management - Students learn different ways to oversee operations that continue to exist. This will cover topics such as safety regulations and general project management.

  • Advanced Project Planning and Control - Students learn to plan out their construction blueprints that must follow an array of safety protocols and government regulations. This is coupled with the responsibility of managing large workforces, meeting their needs and making sure they fulfill their duties. It’s resourceful coursework; one that will benefit the student immensely in their path to being an efficient contractor or manager.

  • Construction Cost Estimating - Estimation of time, money, and available resources such as materials and labor is important to realize if a project is to carry on smoothly. This is generalized to fit any industry standard as each industry can have a different approach to constructing structures and facilities, thereby introducing varying costs to the company.

  • Ecological Construction - Students understand how to approach construction management through sustainable and environmentally-friendly methods that meet the latest regulatory standards. This is most common among businesses that want to make an effort in conserving the environment, which can ask for a lot of opportunities to explore in the career of a construction manager or contractor.

  • Decision Making and Risk Analysis - Schedules and deadlines, meeting demands and regulations and so on all fall under decision-making. The coursework will teach aspiring contractors or construction managers the best use-cases for particular managerial methods in order to minimize risk and create a consistent environment.

Construction (or Building) Technology

Bachelor’s Degree

  • Computer-aided drafting - In order to have an acute understanding of a structure, a 3D or 2D modeled version of the structure is presented in presentations first to guarantee that the execution in the development phase goes smoothly

  • Construction materials - The raw materials used to create components that help build structures must be calculated and used conservatively in order to preserve budget and resources. This comes with the expertise of those who have a good knowledge on what raw materials can be appropriate for a particular project.

  • Programming and Engineering - Contractors who specialize in technology can offer help in various technological and technical aspects of construction work. As many machinery are run by computers and complex digital systems, it’s imperative that an expert be able to decipher how to operate a system, should there ever be system failures so that projects may proceed with as few hiccups, distractions and discontinuations as possible.

  • Soil mechanics - Constructing tall structures can come with risks as they will be built on solid foundations. Without these, there are major risks, particularly in regards to the public’s health, wealth and resources. Soil mechanics can help contractors understand the integrity of the ground so that projects may proceed without worrying about potential disasters.

  • Construction practices - Construction students will learn to understand the safest practices in obtaining and utilizing materials and goods that enhance project performance. Since most of the work involves structures that will inhabit persons, the integrity and the structure must be built with solid construction foundations and practices to ensure safety among the public.

Master’s Degree

  • Advanced Building Materials - Learning about a subsector that involves creating next-generation construction technology allows for the development of quality structures. Students learn about this in-depth to equip them with the knowledge of developing exceptional properties to utilize in construction projects.

  • Energy Systems in Design - Students learn to adopt effective, economic and ecological methods of converting and utilizing energy to satisfy the end user's needs without excessively compromising on exhaustible resources. 

  • Fluid Dynamics in Architecture - This concerns the ventilation flow in and around the buildings and focuses on the adequacy and quality of the indoor air. This is introduced either through natural ventilation or mechanical equipment. This improves the quality of life, hence the reason for contractors to know how to plan out projects that don’t violate this necessity.

  • Daylighting - Much like the addressed dynamics above, daylighting is a similar concept that involves the appropriate placing of openings that allow for natural light to pass through and illuminate structures sufficiently. It’s an important concept to learn about solely because of the improvement to the quality of life among the inhabitants.

Salary for contractors

According to the FederalPay website, this career, under a federal body, was the 26th most popular career in the United States since 2018. They are highly in demand in the Veterans Health Administration with an average annual salary of $79,471. However, the average annual salary, in general, can go up to $111,998.28.

The earnings vary widely across the country based on factors — such as location, experience, and most importantly, quality of service, work and clients — that are further complemented by sound education, and extensive experience and certification.

The median annual wages of construction managers or contractors per annum in the year 2018 were as follows:

  • Construction managers: $93,370

  • Other management occupations: $90,120

  • All contractor occupations: $38,640

These numbers exclude any bonuses, which contractors may earn depending on how much their businesses generate.

Job Growth

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show a 10% increase in job vacancies among construction managers between 2018 and 2028. Career prospects are expected to be in good standing; in fact, those with a bachelor’s degree in either construction management or science, or civil engineering with some work experience in the construction industry have the best prospects. There is also a large retirement outlook in the next decade, which will open up more opportunities for graduates.

However, fluctuations in the economy may have a ripple effect on the industry, showcasing periods of unemployment. In addition to that, frequency in meeting deadlines and answering to emergencies is present, which require the contractors to work additional hours; either they are on-call for the whole of 24 hours, or work for more than 40 hours per week. This can be harrowing for those working for lower wages.

If contractors find a lot of success in their jobs, they could hire employees as assistance in administrative services. This can help allocate time and resources to take up larger projects, or even multiple projects simultaneously.

Job Concentrations

Since Contractors are independent and small business owners, reporting an average income is difficult due to their diversity in picking roles and responsibilities. Depending on what degree you pursued as well as in addition to work experience, a contractor may gain high-value opportunities to seize.

Construction Manager

Construction Managers adopt cost-effective methods Construction Managers general plan projects and oversee the progress of it. Oversight of projects may require them to be on-site if necessary, where they make daily decisions about the activities and priorities involved. However, they also have their main office and may deal with more managerial aspects of the projects such as contract signatures, drafting, and documentation, policies, regulations, and deadlines.

Construction Engineer

Construction Engineers share some roles with the Construction Manager, but they spend most of their time managing and planning construction projects in the context of the mechanics and functions of a structure, including electrical equipment, waterworks and HVAC.

Green Building Contractors

These contractors typically share the same responsibilities as a general contractor, but they deal with buildings and structures that are environmentally-friendly, economic and sustainable. There can be a major increase in businesses adopting this practice, so contractors can see this as a potentially great kickstart to their career as contractors.

General Contractors

General contractors are in charge of commercial or residential building projects. They often select subcontractors to handle multiple jobs related to the responsibilities of a Class C Contractor, but they can also participate in actual construction labor. Presenting construction plans to clients and workers are also a part of a general contractor’s agenda while they are not too busy preparing financial expenditure and budget systems.

Specialized Contractor

Contractors who specialize in the repairs, alteration and renovation of:

  • Electricity-related activities may include appliances, wiring, lighting, heating, power or signal systems within a building or structure. This career stacks up against the careers of contractors who deal with hazardous substances due to their delicate nature.

  • Water distribution systems in houses and plumbing in general.

  • Heating and ventilation systems.

  • Buildings, floors, walls, and other household structures.

Alternative Career Paths

Cost Estimator

They are skilled individuals who draft reports on how much financial, skilled labor as well as economic cost a business is liable for in regards to a project or client they take up. They can calculate, analyze and estimate such values and discuss with other peers to see if the budget can be adjusted to optimize the workings of a contracting company.


This individual is responsible for overlooking building projects that involved a lot of planning, designing and blueprinting. It’s one of the most high-paying jobs in the construction industry given how they are inherently both project managers and designers. Any structures they help design and build are usually meant to be purposefully functional for the public. They are not usually responsible for putting up structures that cannot be inhabited.

Civil Engineer

They conceptualize and design structures meant to act as supporters to the city’s public services which include water supply systems, transportation systems like roadways and airports. Senior-level positions demand a master’s degree as well as an official license to operate in those roles.


Stand out Skills for a Contractor

Analytical mind and decision-making: Many decisions are made at a whim during business as a contractor. This is why it’s important for a contractor to plan ahead and make good decisions to handle multiple situations and alleviate, if not prevent, any issues that may occur from them.

Business and Management: Time management is crucial in a contractor’s career. Keeping on your toes will be a constant job on account of meeting deadlines and expectations. Going over it can cause the client a lot of money, and that can come off as unprofessional and unethical. Putting the client first must be a mantra because it’s through them that their company or brand will receive profit, good reputation and recognition.

Etiquette and communication: A contractor will take up the responsibility of handling many employees and laborers. If there is miscommunication between the contractor and these laborers, then there will be an absence of professionalism, and clients will look toward more trusted contractors for help. It’s imperative to keep a business etiquette while handling teams to exact priorities and keep the business going.

Technical expertise: It goes without saying that a contractor must prove to be an expert in their trade. This can directly influence the quality of their goods and services. Failure to deliver them will result in the loss of clients, affecting profits drastically and potentially shutting one’s business or career prospects down.