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How to become a general contractor if you have no experience

How to become a general contractor if you have no experience

By Wil Chan
Sep 7, 2022
5 min read

Think you have what it takes to become a general contractor? Being a successful general contractor in the construction industry demands broad knowledge, strong people skills and the ability to manage a business. 

Nobody starts working as a licensed general contractor right away: it takes years of experience to get to this level. But even if you’re starting from scratch, you can make a plan to one day become a general contractor — here’s how.

What is a general contractor?

First, some basics; a contractor is anyone who works on a job-to-job basis instead of working for a single company. Contractors have to manage their own taxes, business insurance and retirement accounts. 

In construction, a general contractor (GC) is someone hired to be in charge of a project. That means dealing directly with the client, managing other workers, placing orders with vendors and getting approvals from officials. 

Do you need a license to be a general contractor?

Most states have general contractor license requirements, although many states don’t require a license for smaller jobs. Check with your local licensing board or office for requirements and the licensing process.

To get a general contractor license, you'll typically need to demonstrate years of work experience and pass an exam. These exams vary by state but usually cover legal, financial and safety regulations and professional topics like construction materials, HVAC and plumbing

You’ll also need the right general contractor insurance, which is required to get a license in many states (Typically general liability insurance.) Many clients may also want to see your proof of coverage before they'll work with you. Insurance helps to protect you against accidents or unexpected events that could have a huge financial impact on your business.

Are there courses that can prepare me to become a general contractor?

Many construction industry associations provide training courses for becoming a GC. For example, you can enroll in a program like the Building Trades Academy, run by the North America's Building Trades Unions (NABTU), or a course by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). 

These courses give you the practical knowledge to manage a construction project, including design, safety and building codes, construction materials, inspection procedures, cost estimation and even labor law. 

Another option is to pursue a bachelor's or master's degree in construction management. A construction management degree — which typically combines structural engineering and business management training — can help you become a GC or open the door to construction leadership opportunities.

Keep in mind that in most states, a degree or educational certificate isn’t enough to meet the licensing requirements to be a general contractor. You’ll still need hands-on experience.

What kind of work experience do I need to become a general contractor?

The requirements for a general contractor license will depend on your state, but you’re expected to have a few years of professional experience in construction and a solid understanding of the different trades involved.

Many general contractors begin as carpenters, though some may start in other trades as plumbers, electricians or HVAC technicians

The paths to master different trades will vary but typically involve a combination of training courses and supervised work experience, often through an apprenticeship. Many unions or professional organizations sponsor apprenticeships, which can last as long as four years.

It's also possible to gain professional experience requirements in construction without a formal training program, though this can be more challenging. This usually requires finding a company with a supportive crew willing to take you on as a "helper" doing odd jobs before introducing you to more complex tasks.

Even when you're training, carrying your own business insurance is a good idea. As an apprentice, subcontractor, helper or have a side hustle contracting business, you may not always be covered by the insurance of a contractor who hires you — and mistakes happen.

How NEXT helps general contractors succeed

At NEXT, getting general contractor insurance to protect your business is simple.

We offer general liability coverage, workers' compensation insurance, professional liability and other common business insurances for GCs. You can bundle two or more of our policies and save up to 10%.

You can complete an application, view policy options, get a quote and purchase coverage in less than 10 minutes. When you make a payment, you’ll get immediate access to your certificate of insurance.

Get started with your free online quote today.

How to become a general contractor if you have no experience

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About the author
Wil Chan is a content writer at NEXT and has been a professional writer for more than ten years. His work has been featured in publications including Forbes and Greatist. He has run a freelance business since 2016 and feels passionate about helping self-employed people in all industries succeed.
General contractor license requirements by state: NEXT Insurance guide
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