Become a General Contractor

If you love construction, becoming a general contractor can be an excellent way to further your career in the industry. General contractors know all the major aspects of construction work, including how to supervise others. You can become a licensed or certified general contractor in your state by taking certain exams, which you qualify for through relevant education, work experience, or both. Whether you have worked in the construction industry for years, or are just starting out, you can make steady progress toward becoming a practicing general contractor.


Meeting Certification and Licensure Requirements

  1. Research what your state requires to work as a general contractor. Before you gain additional degrees and work experience, learn what exams your state requires. All states are different in their exact certification and licensure requirements.[1]
  2. Make a plan for qualifying to take your state’s required exams. Often, you can qualify for general contractor exams in several ways. Whether you have or plan to obtain a high school diploma, Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or Master’s degree, you can become a general contractor through some combination of education and experience.[2]
  3. Consider going beyond your state’s requirements. Some states have more relaxed certification and licensure requirements than others. To gain more confidence, credibility, and geographical flexibility in your work, you may consider gaining national certification even if it is not required.
  4. Learn about the nationally recognized certification exams. These include the CCM (Certified Construction Manager) Exam, the AC (Associate Constructor Certification) Exam, and the CPC (Certified Professional Constructor) Exam.
    • The CCM requires either a Bachelor’s or Master’s, 8 years of construction experience, or 4 years of construction experience plus an Associate’s Degree.
    • The AC is the exam given by the American Institute of Constructors (AIC) for beginner contractors (Level 1). To take this exam, you will need to have 4 years of education, work experience, or a combination of both.
    • The CPC is also given by the AIC, but is an advanced contractor (Level 2) exam. You can take it if you have the AC certification and 4 years of additional education and work experience, plus 2 years of construction management. Those who are not AC certified will need 8 years of construction experience plus two years of construction management.[3]

Gaining Professional Experience

  1. Apply to work for an electrician, plumber, or other professional. General contractors have a broad knowledge of construction, including electrical work, plumbing, building regulations, carpentry, and masonry.[4] While someday you will be familiar with all of these fields, you should gain experience in parts. This is your opportunity to make sure that you want to work in construction.
    • It can be both enjoyable and smart to specialize early on in the aspect of construction you find most interesting. Specializations can help general contractors thrive in their business.
  2. Find an internship or part-time job if you are pursuing a degree. While you may be studying Construction Management or a related field in order to qualify for your exams, keep in mind that there are some things that you can only learn on the ground. Search for internships and jobs in construction online, or ask a professor or student in your program for job leads.
  3. Consider doing a 3-5 year apprenticeship with a trade association. One of the best ways to become a general contractor is to work as an apprentice in the field. Contractor apprenticeships generally combine paid work in construction with some class hours.[5] This is a faster track to general contracting than doing it through general construction experience alone.
    • The best place to look for an apprenticeship is through a trade union or association for general contractors, such as the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), which offers apprenticeships and other training programs.[6]
    • Another good resource is the US Department of Labor’s site, which can help you find an apprenticeship in the construction industry. However, these apprenticeships may be a less direct path than a general contracting apprenticeship with a union.[7]
    • In some cases, you can apprentice directly with a business in the construction industry. Consider reaching out to a company you admire.
  4. Supplement your work with continuing education classes. Even if you do not pursue higher education to become a general contractor, courses can fill in gaps in your business management skills. For example, the AGC offers a Supervisory Training Program to learn how to supervise employees in your field.[8]
  5. Find a mentor to guide you to becoming a general contractor. Whether you are a construction worker, apprentice, or intern, a good mentor can become invaluable to your success. Mentors can offer insider knowledge, valuable connections, and support.
    • Even a thriving general contractor remembers what it was like to be in your shoes. Reach out to someone you know, especially if they have already taken notice of your great work. Ask them to discuss your field over coffee, dinner, or a drink. Be curious and thoughtful about their career path, and you are well on your way to gaining a mentor.[9]

Pursuing a Degree

  1. Research programs in construction management and related fields. If higher education is part of your path, find programs that are high-quality, relevant, affordable, and in a location that works for you. Consider whether you want to study construction management, or a field like engineering, architecture, or construction science.[10] This is a good time to hone in on your specialization as a future contractor, if you want one.
  2. Decide whether you want an Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or Master’s. Choose a degree based on how much work experience you plan to gain before taking your exams. A Bachelor’s or Master’s can qualify you to take your exams right after graduation. With a 2-year Associate’s Degree, you may still need to gain up to 4 years of additional work experience.[11]
  3. Learn about your options for scholarships and financial aid. Paying for an education can be challenging, but you may qualify for government, private, or university aid. If you are a member of a trade association or employed by a construction company, tuition remission may be an option. Scholarships are also available for construction students through private grants.[12]
  4. Send in your college and financial aid applications on time. Keep track of deadlines carefully. Otherwise you may have to wait a semester or an entire year before you can enroll!
  5. Study hard during your program and gain work experience. You will need to pay close attention to absorb the many aspects of construction management including technical skills, business practices, and engineering.[13] If you have time, supplement your studies with jobs and internships during the semester and summer.
  6. Consider working after you graduate and before taking your exams. Although your degree may qualify you for your general contractor exams, it can be helpful to gain more experience in construction or construction management. Being a general contractor is a challenging job: take it on when you feel ready.

Taking Your Exams

  1. Keep track of deadlines for your certification and licensure exams. It’s time to register for your state’s required exams if you meet all their qualifications. You will typically need to pay a fee of around $100 or more to take one of these exams.[14]
  2. Study for your exams with official, accredited materials. Depending on when and whether you went to school for construction management, you may need to refresh your knowledge for your exams.
    • Exams can be four or five hours long, and cover a wide range of topics including employment practices, construction resource management, ethics, risk management, and engineering concepts.[15]
    • The AIC offers pdf study guides for both the AC and CPC certification exams.[16] All exam boards should have suggested study resources or their own study materials on their websites.
  3. Pass your exams and start working as a general contractor. Though it was a long road, now that you are licensed or certified, you can officially call yourself a general contractor. Enjoy a rewarding career of helping people live and work in functional, well-maintained buildings!