How to Become a Commercial General Contractor

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Commercial general contractors oversee the construction, development, updating, and remodeling of business structures.

The “general” qualifier simply means that they are proficient in multiple construction disciplines but do not specialize in one type. Instead, acting as a manager and hiring specialty contractors to perform specific tasks such as masonry and carpentry.

But this fast-paced, fast-growing job is dynamic, extending into duties such as preparing cost estimates, hiring laborers and subcontractors, managing properties, choosing construction methods, checking local regulations, budgeting, and client relations.

Where do contractors spend their time?

Their time is spent between office and field work and often extends beyond regular business hours depending on scheduling delays or other unforeseen circumstances.

How do general contractors get into the field?

Many commercial general contractors are introduced to the field through their family, and it’s common to hear them speak proudly about their multi-generational history in construction. But for those without a built-in career plan, there are other ways to learn how to design and construct industrial buildings.

If you’re new to the profession, or have worked as a construction laborer and wish to boost your career, you have plenty of educational options; from apprenticeships, internships, and work-study programs to formal education via certifications and master’s programs.

Certificates and degrees in Construction Management and its related fields are offered by a number of universities and colleges nationwide, including University of Washington.

What are the educational requirements for commercial general contractors?

General Contractor Construction companies increasingly favor hiring professionals with a background in construction as well as formal education that includes applied knowledge in construction management.

But, departments recommend that students have experience in the commercial construction field before applying or at least complete basic courses in construction contracts and methods.

As engineering technology changes, employers sometimes emphasize possessing specialized knowledge in:

  • Project Control
  • Building Design
  • Cost Estimation
  • Building Codes and Standards
  • Contract Administration
  • Math and Statistics
  • Commercial Real Estate

Employment Qualifications for Construction Management

Degree Licensing Required Skills
Bachelor’s or Master’s of Construction Management, Building Science, or Civil Engineering State Contractor’s License, registration with the State’s Department of Labor and Industries Knowledge of construction laws and methods, planning software, and technical drawings. Cost estimation software knowledge, business leadership, attention to detail, analytical skills, problem-solving and decision-making, initiative, time-management, writing.

What Commercial Contractors Do
Managing a construction project from start to finish requires wearing multiple hats. Duties can include:

  • Client consultation, including explaining contracts and reporting on progress and budget
  • Refining construction plans
  • Estimating and controlling costs
  • Supervising multiple public, commercial, and industrial projects at once
  • Working with architects and civil engineers
  • Responding to delays, emergencies, and other setbacks
  • Hiring specialty contractors like masons, electricians, structural steel workers, landscapers, painters, excavators, and carpenters

  • Hiring and scheduling trade laborers
  • Interactions with lawyers, government officials, and city inspectors to ensure regulations and permitting requirements are met
  • Occasionally collaborating with other construction managers for different phases of a project
  • Scheduling and time allocating to ensure on-time materials delivery and project completion
  • Compliance with local building codes, laws, accident prevention, and other safety techniques

Who do Contractors Work For?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 38 percent of commercial construction managers in the US are self-employed, but many get started by working for large national firms that have offices all over the country. Keep in mind that those new to the job are often hired as assistants and work for a more experienced construction manager for a period of months or years.

As with most careers, whatever emerging professionals can do to increase their practical construction experience will reduce on-the-job training time. Internships, certificate programs, and prior work in the construction industry all help to enhance your resume and limit the wait time for establishing yourself in the exciting field of commercial construction.

The Future of Commercial Construction Management
The outlook for jobs in nonresidential construction is very good, with employment numbers projected to grow faster than average at 11 percent over the next ten years.

Washington is a great place to start a career in this field, with pay at one of the highest rates in the country on average. Commercial general contractors and managers of commercial real estate in Tumwater and Olympia, in particular, are seeing rapid growth, providing a variety of opportunities for business owners and recent graduates alike.

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