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A general contractor is a person or company that is in charge of the entirety of a construction project, whether commercial or residential. The general contracting company is responsible for bidding on a job, obtaining a job, providing all of the materials, labor and equipment needed to complete the job, and overseeing its accomplishment. While general contracting duties may include some or all of the work associated with a construction project, especially carpentry, more specialized work, such as plumbing, electrical and mechanical, may be subcontracted out.
To become a general contractor, known as a main contractor in Europe and a prime contractor by the U.S. government, no degree is technically necessary, though a bachelor’s degree in construction science is preferred by many larger companies. All states in the U.S. require that people in this position pass a written exam on general construction practices and laws before obtaining a license to work. Some states also require that a contractor establish the financial means to run a general contracting business, as well as provide recommendations from previous employers, clients, and business associates before obtaining a license.
The job of a general contractor begins with seeking out work and submitting construction bids to get hired to manage a project. Contractors will typically estimate the cost of materials for the project, add in their projected cost of labor including payment for subcontractors, and their profit margin, before submitting the estimate to the client. Once the client accepts the bid, the contractor will most likely obtain a performance bond, especially for larger projects, ensuring the client has financial protection in place in the event the project is not completed in the time or manner requested.
Once the paperwork is finished and the contract is signed, the general contractor will then solicit bids for the specialty work needed for the project that the contractor's company is unable or unwilling to handle. In some cases, particularly when doing work for the government, the contractor will have to submit a list of subcontractors to the client either before the contract is signed or directly after; subcontractors are sometimes subject to the approval of the client.
From that point, the general contractor oversees all aspects of the project and is directly responsible for any complications that may arise during construction. Any delays or issues with the project may come out of the contractor's pocket unless the agreement with the subcontractor or subcontractors state otherwise. While some general contractors handle the majority of the work themselves, those who engage subcontractors are still ultimately responsible for the timeliness and quality of all work.