Housing projects often require the hiring a number of contractors, but it can be difficult for the typical homeowner to comprehend what exactly each contractor does and what their role is in the bigger picture. Familiar terms in the construction industry include building contractors, subcontractors, construction managers, and general contractors.
Definition of a General Contractor
General contractors are essentially top-tier managers of a building project. They are responsible for a number of workers, and oversee the project from beginning to end. General contractors are often hired for large-scale projects including commercials buildings or infrastructure (bridges, roads, and tunnels).
However, general contractors are often used for smaller renovation projects in private residences. DIY can be fun, but there are times when you definitely need to hire a professional to complete the work you require. This is where general contractors come in: they are akin to an event planner for a wedding or a conference, because they are the ones who envision the finished result and streamline the organization of the sub-contractors they hire to complete a variety of construction tasks.
Depending on the size and complexity of your renovation project, hiring a general contractor to oversee the work generally improves the quality and efficiency of the workforce. It is analogous to how any workers behave when the manager is around: they carry out their very best work, and are on their best behavior.
Moreover, general contractors, because of their vast construction experience, usually have the most knowledge about permits, inspections, and federal regulations that can seriously impede any renovation project if not dealt with in a professional and timely manner.
Therefore, any home renovation that requires permit applications or government regulations are carried out much more easily with an experienced general contractor, who has probably formed a long-lasting professional relationship with the permit-holders in their vicinity. As a result, it is much more probable that a general contractor can obtain the permit you need, and even negotiate the specifics, for the improvement you require.
General Contractors: Jack of All Trades
We all know the saying ‘Jack of all trades’ that then pronounces the jack to be a ‘master of none’, but in the case of a general contractor, the saying should be modified. Instead, it should read as ‘jack of all trades, master of many.’ This is because general contractors are qualified to perform any type of construction task. You need your roof tiled? Done. You need your wiring re-done? No problem. You want to build a deck for the garden? Easy.
You see, while other contractors specialize in a particular area, general contractors are qualified to provide skilled work in any area. It’s up to them what area they decide to specialize in, and no doubt their liability insurance will reflect the area they feel most comfortable in. Technically, a general contractor can specialize in ten areas or more if they so desire, because all general contractors have to pass exams that test their skills in a wide range of construction specifics.
Qualifications and Experience
Now that we have defined what a general contractor is, let’s find out what you need to do in order to become a general contractor:
University education is not required in order to become a general contractor, but it is possible to obtain such a qualification. A bachelor’s degree in construction management often leads to a career as a general contractor. However, construction is an industry which often values experience over education. This is understandable when you consider that you can’t very well learn hands-on skills from a textbook.
Thus, when a company is looking to hire a general contractor, it is very likely that they will pick the general contractor with experience as opposed to the most education. The general rule is that the more experience, the better.
There isn’t a specific number of years experience required in order to become a general contractor. However, considering it’s a managerial role, it isn’t common for construction workers who have been in the industry for less than five years to become one. Again, it’s analogous to other industries which have a hierarchical management system. Management roles are generally offered to workers who have vast experience in their field of experience. The same applies to general contractors.
Thus, the best way to obtain valuable experience is to apply for entry-level (no experience required) construction jobs and proceed gradually from there. Working for a general contractor will inevitably demonstrate the necessary skills required to become one, particularly if you apply for an assistant’s role which will involve duties including document collection, liaison with other contractors, monitoring permit applications, and overseeing expenditures.
Skills Required to be a General Contractor
The most significant aspect of a general contractor’s portfolio is their wide range of skill-sets. The role and responsibilities of a general contractor, moreover, range from interacting with architects to providing skilled labor. First, it is important that they possess strong communication and decision-making skills in order to delegate effectively. Second, they must be highly organized and excel at time management, with the initiative required to make complex decisions regarding budget changes, material suitability, and effective scheduling strategies.
Third, they must be proficient in the use of spreadsheet and construction software in order to keep accurate records regarding budgets and completion timelines. Fourth, being a general contractor involves having an up-to-date knowledge of construction technology, the ability to decipher technical drawings, and the analysis skills required to assess construction contracts.
Building Your Dream Takes Brains
The skills outlined above are concerned with character traits and general business acumen. However, this is by no means a comprehensive lists of the skills required to become a general contractor. If we consider the entirety of a general contractor’s role, it’s evident that this role on your home construction project requires much more than an individual physically capable of slopping on mortar and stacking bricks.
The role of a general contractor is unique, in that it requires intellectual prowess, a confident and assertive personality that manages to develop amicable relationships with customers, subordinates and suppliers, and a vast knowledge pertaining to a variety of manual skills. It’s common sense, really: a general contractor cannot be an effective overseer if they can’t deduce when a specific job is being done shoddily, so it’s imperative that they possess experience in a wide variety of construction-related skills.
Therefore, if you’re considering renovating your home, hiring a reputable, certified general contractor will put your mind entirely at ease after finding out about the extent of both their physical and mental aptitude. From brick-laying to problem-solving; from plumbing to material sourcing, general contractors are certainly jacks-of-all-trades, and masters of many, able to bring even your wildest dreams for your home to life.