What It Takes to Be a General Contractor

Angi Staff
Written by Angi Staff
Updated January 29, 2016
general contractor standing on roof
General contractors need to have the skills, experience and proper licensing to take on a job. (Photo by Katelin Kinney)

Not everyone has the talent, skill and dedication required to be a good general contractor or carpenter.

The training and on-the-job experience required of a general contractor is often overlooked and by many homeowners who think the job is simple enough to conduct effectively on their own.

Although some projects may be accomplished by the layperson, an excellent general contractor will have an entire foundation of knowledge and experience to draw from, which will ensure the most effective completion of a home improvement project.

On-the-job and vocational training

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 32 percent of all contractors such as carpenters are self-employed. Regardless of how independent a contractor or carpenter might be, he or she will learn the craft through on-the-job training, vocational school, technical college, or a 3- to 4-year formal apprenticeship program.

In addition to these options for educational training, a good contractor must have excellent manual dexterity, good hand-eye coordination, adequate physical fitness, exceptional balance and an ability to solve mathematical problems quickly and correctly.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics describes the nature of a contractor or carpenter's work as constructing, erecting, installing and repairing structures and fixtures made from wood and other materials. The work conducted by a contractor or carpenter can range from small-scale projects, such as installing cabinets in a home, to large-scale projects, such as building highways and bridges.

What makes a skilled worker

A contractor or carpenter's job often requires strenuous manual labor in the form of lifting heavy objects and prolonged standing, climbing, bending and kneeling. Contractors and carpenters must often work with sharp tools and power equipment, and can often be prone to nonfatal injuries and illnesses on the job.

Carpenters and contractors must also be skilled in the management of employees whether they are independent contractors or employed by another company. A professional contractor would need to exhibit excellent communication skills in order to effectively conduct business with clients and subcontractors.

Organizational skills and mathematical abilities would also come into play with the management of employees, since these skills would enable contractors and carpenters to make accurate project estimations and ensure an effective and profitable application of the project.

Time management skills are also crucial for contractors and carpenters on the job, since the project is usually expected to be completed within a certain time frame. A high-quality contractor or carpenter is expected to acquire the appropriate amount of materials for the project and be able to perform the labor necessary to complete the project in the time allotted.

Before hiring a contractor for your next home improvement project, make sure that he or she has the educational credentials, experience, and skills necessary to complete the project in the most effective manner possible.

It's also a good idea to verify a contractor's license credentials to make sure they're in good standing with the respective jurisdiction before agreeing to contract terms with a contractor or carpenter. With the above qualifications in mind, the requirements to obtain a contractor's license can vary significantly by city or state.

For example, a Boston general contractor may need to hold a Massachusetts construction supervisor license in order to perform any home improvement work on a residential building. In other states, such as Illinois, a Chicago contractor may need to hold a general contractor license from the Chicago Building Department or a home repair license from the city's Business Affairs and Consumer Protection division, or both.

Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally published Jan. 13, 2012