In the United States, contractor licenses are issued to people based on meeting the qualifications for each type of license. There are three main types of contractor license: general building contractor, a general engineering contractor, and specialty contractors. This article presents the differences between specialty contractors and general contractors.
Specialty contractors (SCs) are usually classified as Class “C” license holders. Their license qualifies them to conduct work in the trade for which they are licensed, such as welding, heating, and air conditioning, flooring, roofing, landscaping, plumbing, etc. These specialty contractors have extensive training in the organization, implementation, construction, and maintenance of their particular craft. They can be hired by the project’s owner or by the general contractor, who oversees the entire job. Sometimes the specialty contractor hires a subcontractor to assist in the project, but the specialty contractor is responsible for meeting the safety regulations, standards, and codes set forth by the local government.
Class “A” licenses are issued to general engineering contractors (GECs). These contractors work on projects that require a high level of engineering ability in various fields, such as mechanical, electrical, and civil engineering. The GECs may work on shipyards, harbors, docks, dams, flood control, and drainage, hydroelectric plants, bridges, railroads, highways, tunnels, airports, oil refineries, and power plants. They blend safety with purpose and function.
General Building Contractors
General Building Contractors (GBCs) supervise construction of a project that requires two or more trade specialties. They arrange and schedule the various steps in the process to maximize efficiency; they often manage budgets, and pay their workers, collaborating with the project’s owners. General building contractors normally possess a Class “B” license, issued by the state of their work site. The GBC can lead the construction of his own project or be hired by another party to build a job. GBCs usually have a license to do framing, but need to hire specialty contractors to perform the installation of heating and air conditioning, plumbing, electrical, etc. It is not uncommon for a GBC to hire one specialty company to do two or more specialties if that specialty contractor is licensed in those relevant trades.
Specialty contractors and general contractors don’t always have a contract between themselves. Sometimes the owner of a project will contract with a specialty contractor in addition to the contract with the GBD, which means the specialty company is responsible to meet the terms of its contract with the owner, not with the GBC. In this case, the specialty contractor and the owner must be responsible to honor the terms of their agreement, and the SC should keep the GBC informed of the ongoing status of the implementation of their trade so the GBC can orchestrate the other aspects of the construction in a timely manner.
Typically, when a GBC contracts with an SC, there is a down payment transacted, then a promise for payment of the balance when the job is completed. The GBC and SC must communicate openly about these terms of the agreement to prevent problems with each other.
So, specialty contractors and general contractors have different responsibilities and levels of expertise. To be analogous to military service, general contractors are the generals or admirals, and specialty contractors are very well-trained soldiers or sailors, who have the expertise to do specific tasks and sometimes answer to a politician instead of to the general.
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