General contractor career information

Did you enjoy taking shop classes, such as drafting, metal and wood shop, and electronics when you were in high school? Are you someone who can’t really sit still and an office job may bore you to tears? Are you at your happiest when installing or fixing things with your tools? If you identify with any of these traits, then you may want to consider a career as a general contractor.
A general contractor is someone who works in the construction industry. They may also have the title of a construction manager. They generally lead a team on construction projects for residential and commercial projects. General contractors may have started their career in the field, but much of their day is spent at the office coordinating construction activities, business development or administrative duties.
A formal post-secondary education is not necessarily required to be a general contractor. However, some students may decide to do a degree in civil engineering in order to qualify for management level jobs later on in their careers. Students can also enter the field straight from high school by working in the construction industry as a field staff, doing framing work or basic construction tasks and work their way up by experience to be a general contractor.
Since a general contractor’s job is dependent on the construction industry, job prospects are the best in areas where there are a lot of new developments. In terms of commercial developments, the job prospects are greater in metropolitan areas where there is a lot of office and retail space development. Although, in the residential market, opportunities are spread throughout the country, as there are new town developments in areas which used to be more rural or agriculturally based. According to the US Department of Labor’s US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the growth rate for general contractors is 16%, which is higher than average1. Again, this is due to the fact that there is a lot of construction activities taking place across the country.
The skills and qualities which are deemed important for the role of a general contractor include:
• Client relations: Construction projects are usually large projects with a lot of money at stake. As a result, clients are particularly concerned about the progress and ensuring that the contractor delivers on expectations. General contractors need to be able to handle their relationships with the clients in order to keep their current as well as future jobs.
• Business development: Independent general contractors usually need to network with existing and prospective clients to land projects. That means marketing and networking as well as putting together proposals to be considered for the next job.
• Construction principles: While not all contractors are hands on with the building in the field, they do need to understand construction principles to make sure the project is compliant to code and the project is managed in the most efficient way possible.
• Project management: There are many moving parts in a construction project. Contractors need to be able to manage people, parts and timelines to make sure that the project is delivered on time, on budget and within the clients’ expectations.
• Supervision: Contractors are required to supervise the staff on the team that is working in the field to make sure that they are delivering the project accordingly and there is no harm done to them or others on the job.
For more information on the career path of a contractor, please contact your school counselor.
Reference:
1. Construction Managers. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. US Department of Labor. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/construction-managers.htm

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