At JobFLEX we work with contractors of all types on our popular estimating and invoice app and we know that nearly anyone who has spent time working on a job site has likely wondered at some point, “Could I go into business for myself?” Of course, anyone can start their own business, but what are the requirements to becoming a contractor? How much experience do you need? What licenses do you have to obtain? If you ask around, you’ll find that most trades people gained experience by working in a specific trade before they become contractors. In addition to their work experience, some contractors, like electricians, may have to earn college or trade-school degrees. 

How Long Does It Take to Become a Contractor? 
Depending on the type of trade and the state and local laws, it can take up to 10 years to gain the necessary training and experience to become a contractor. However, in some areas there are absolutely no training or licensing requirements. In those areas you can begin working as a contractor immediately in some fields. 

Training and Licenses 
As mentioned above, contractor requirements can vary quite a bit from state to state. For example, in Vermont there is no experience, license or training required to become a general contractor. However, in California you must obtain a license from the Contractors State License Board for any work that will cost over $500. Additionally, in California you must also have at least four full years of work experience within the past ten years in the contractor classification you are applying for. 

Not to be left out of the licensing-requirement industry, some local municipalities also have licensing requirements. Some jurisdictions will require contractors to provide proof of insurance, financial statements and letters of reference to obtain a license or permit. 

Most jurisdictions that require licensing also require the applicant to pass a written test to demonstrate proficiency in their field. Additionally, some tests will require the applicant to show knowledge of safety issues and building codes in the area they will be performing the work. Other jurisdictions, depending on the type of trade, will only require proof of work experience. Still other jurisdictions may not require any of the above. 

Some states and local municipalities may also require knowledge of business management topics, such as bidding and estimating, contracts, environmental safety and tax, labor and construction law. 

In some states, like Virginia, contractors can obtain a lower-class license that will allow them to do work up to a specified dollar amount per job or per year. If they wish to take on higher-paying jobs they will need to obtain a higher-class license that will require additional testing. 

If you have questions about your local area, please refer to HomeAdvisor’s comprehensive guide to state by state licensing requirements here.

There is a lot to consider in learning how to become a contractor, and much of it will be determined by what state, and which cities, you what to work in. The U.S. Small Business Administration also provides a tool on its website where you can look up what licenses you will need to work as a contractor in any given area in the United States. 

Types of Contractors 
The type of contractor you want to become will dictate the work experience and skills you’ll want to develop before starting up your own business.

General Contractors 
General contractors are essentially project managers, tasked with overseeing the planning and implementation of construction projects. These projects can range from small home improvement and repair jobs, such as a bathroom renovation or building repair, to the construction of houses, garages, and other types of buildings. 

General contractors will typically have a background and work experience in one or more types of the construction trades. They may work alone, have employees or hire subcontractors who will work on specialized parts of a job, such as plumbing, electrical and heating and cooling systems. 

Specialized Contractors 
Specialized contractors have a specific area of expertise and typically will have gone through an apprenticeship and then worked at the journeyman level or as a foreman for several years before becoming a contractor. 

Electrical Contractors 
Electrical Contractors work exclusively on electrical systems. Because of the inherent risks of fire in a building that is wired incorrectly, becoming an electrical contractor requires years of training as an apprentice and then working at the journeyman level. Because of the need for safety, most jurisdictions require a comprehensive test that will only be given after the applicant has had several years of on-the-job training or earned a degree from an accredited program. 

Foundation Contractors 
Foundation contractors work exclusively on installing foundations. The work here typically involves excavating and grading the site, constructing forms that will hold the concrete and overseeing the filling of the forms. Training will typically consist of several years of working for a foundation contractor. However, many jurisdictions do not require any formal training, testing or licensing to become a foundation contractor. 

Roofing Contractors 
Roofing contractors work exclusively on repairing, replacing and installing new roofs. This can include installing asphalt shingles, metal roofing, slate and ceramic tiles. Training will normally consist of several years of on-the-job training working for a roofing contractor. Many jurisdictions do not require any formal training, testing or licensing to become a roofing contractor. 

Mechanical Contractors 

Mechanical contractors work on systems with moving parts, such as plumbing and HVAC systems. Some specialized electrical contractors that work on systems with moving parts, like fire-suppression systems, are also considered mechanical contractors. 

Plumbing Contractors 
Plumbing contractors are mechanical contractors that work exclusively on plumbing systems. Some states require an applicant for a plumbing contractor’s license to either undergo extensive training in the form of an apprenticeship and several years of journeyman work or have a degree from an accredited program, or both. The requirements in other states are less stringent. 

HVAC contractors specialize in working on heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems. This can include furnaces, boilers, heat pumps, geothermal heat exchangers, exhaust systems and central air-conditioning units. Because of the overlap, HVAC contractors will sometimes have training in both the electrical and plumbing trades. However, some states allow HVAC contractors to work as a form of general contractor and have licensed plumbers and electricians perform the specialized parts of the job. 

Prospects for Contractors 
Demand for construction relies largely on the state of the economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average yearly earnings of self-employed contractors in the United States was $82,790 in 2016, making it an attractive opportunity for many workers. In addition, the Associated General Contractors of America states that there will continue to be growth in demand for residential housing in the coming years. Clearly, there’s an opportunity here for contractors who do good work and build a solid reputation. Though, one thing most new contractors struggle with is marketing their business. Check out these other resources to learn more about effectively marketing a contracting business:

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