All 50 states require contractors to earn a license before working on commercial or residential building projects. Licensing laws often vary between states, so contractors cannot always transfer them.
Individual state rules to become a licensed contractor involve many similar requirements regarding age, citizenship status, and minimum education standards.
Licensing for Contractors Requirements
Most states require that contractors meet minimal requirements. They include
- Being at least 18 years old
- Graduating from high school or having a GED
- Being a legal US resident or citizen
- Providing photo proof of citizenship from a driver’s license or passport
- Sharing other occupational licenses
- Describing violations or citations from previous construction projects
- Posting a state licensing bond
Choosing a Licensing Category
While working on licensing for contractors, candidates need to choose what type of contractor they want to be. States have several different types of contractors like Mechanical, Building, and Specialty.
Building contractors, also called general contractors, work on new residential or commercial building projects. They also oversee renovation and remodeling projects. Usually, contractors supervise projects rather than do the physical work.
Mechanical contractors work with their specific licenses on mechanical jobs, but they do not install the products. Instead, they rely on specialty contractors to do the installation or small trade jobs.
Specialty contractors work in industries like
- Fire protection
Candidates working on their licensing for contractor skills must take an exam to prove they understand the laws and skills regarding construction and running a related business. State licensing boards need to see that you can operate your own business and have the financing to do it.
The state licensing boards often require candidates to provide letters of reference to show their financial status. Candidates also need to prove they have successfully worked on construction or engineering projects, by sharing letters of recommendation from employers and customers. State licensing boards need to see that candidates have had on-the-job experience.
Before doing any business as a licensed contractor, you need to organize your business. Some states require new companies to register with the secretary of state or with business licensing boards.
States also require that new businesses have liability insurance and worker’s compensation before hiring any subcontractors or other employees.
What to Study to be a Licensed Contractor
Becoming a licensed contractor involves studying helpful subjects. All licensed contractors need a high school diploma or an equivalent, but they can help themselves by studying coursework in geometry, drafting, and other construction-related courses. Some students take hands-on construction courses through career-tech programs.
Licensed contractors can also help themselves by taking business courses, like accounting and management, so they can effectively run their own business. Some states require licensed contractors to earn bachelor’s degree programs where they study architecture, accounting, and construction management.
Some contractors continue their education and earn advanced degrees to become more marketable and charge higher fees.
In place of a college degree, contractors can earn their licenses with extensive experience in the field. Most states require at least three years of experience as an apprentice or an employee in a construction-related job.
State licensing boards need to see proof of apprenticeships or shadowing other licensed contractors.
Licensed contractors need to be able to work effectively in the field. Even though they don’t actually do the construction work, they know how to work with equipment and communicate with the employees doing the work.
Contractors should know how to read and write, analyze and problem-solve, and they should be able to manage and supervise.
Pass the Exam
To prove that contractors can do their jobs and run a construction site, they must pass their state’s licensing exam. The exams usually include questions about building codes, construction and contracting laws, and business management. Without the exam, contractors can only work on projects with small budgets.
Open Your Business
After passing the exam, the next step is crafting a business plan and opening it. Decide what type of projects you want to work on and how to accomplish your goal. Include information about financing, management, and timelines.
Working as a licensed contractor is a rewarding career that offers unique projects and interaction with other people. The steps to become a licensed contractor help builders follow regulations and codes so residential and commercial buildings are safe for their occupants.