If you are considering or are currently working in a trade career, proper licensing is essential to your success. A valid license not only legitimizes your work, but also protects you and your clients, opens up new and bigger opportunities, and ensures that you stay up to date on the practices and regulations of your trade. Taking the steps to understand your state’s license requirements and processes, the available resources for education and exam preparation, and the benefits of obtaining and maintaining your license will help you make safe, smart decisions that benefit you, your clients, and your community.

What qualifications does your state require to perform contract work?

Each U.S. state has different licensing requirements for commercial and residential contract work of all types, but most trades require a license. These include electrical, HVAC, plumbing, refrigeration, hydronics, and general construction work. In some cases, the requirement of a license is dependent on the project’s size, value, and classification. Contractors must check what their local and state laws dictate before making commitments to clients or bidding on commercial projects. In short, your license status determines what types of work you can legally accept and complete.

Importantly, licenses are not valid forever—contractors are required to renew them as frequently as every 1-3 years. Professionals are required to stay on top of their field’s regulations and keep their skills sharp by consistently reevaluating their knowledge.

In addition to licensure, professionals must also register with state departments, get certified for certain tasks, and secure permits for particular jobs. Contractors can face repercussions for operating without these qualifications, including fines, legal consequences, no compensation, or even jail time. The laws surrounding contract work exist to keep people safe, ensure quality work, and encourage tradespeople to find the best and most reliable modes of performing within their respective industries.

How do you obtain or renew a contractor’s license?

Obtaining a contractor’s license requires you to pass an industry-specific exam. In some cases, you must also pass a business and law exam to contract commercial projects. License renewal often requires contractors to complete hours’ worth of training on top of retaking their exams. While it seems strenuous to continually reassess your skills, these processes are ultimately creating better educated, skilled workers who maintain connections with their respective industries and their local and state infrastructure.

While trade and technical schools are becoming increasingly popular with people who do not want to pursue further formal education, trade subjects are just as rigorous and progressive as any academic field. Tradespeople continue learning, improving their craft, and keeping up with industry regulations outside of the classroom. For some, licensure may seem like a way to gatekeep trade work or a frustrating hurdle; instead, it can be considered a way to hone the practical knowledge they earn through work and keep experienced, skilled workers, engaged.

How can you prepare for license exams?

For busy professionals, the process of obtaining or renewing a license may seem difficult to manage on top of work responsibilities. While many individuals choose a trade or technical school over traditional colleges to avoid formal assessments, many of the same resources afforded to students are being translated for tradespeople. Not unlike the study aids and preparatory courses available to help students pass standardized tests like the SAT or GRE, there are similar guides and programs available for exam prep and continuing education in trade subjects.

There are fewer differences between trade education and formal education than you might think. Trade careers have long attracted individuals who seek hands-on, self-motivated work; licensing processes allow those individuals to work at their own pace to further their careers, gain access to new experiences, and stay up-to-date with their industries’ standards. Just as higher education allows individuals to become experts in their fields, licensing does the same for contractors who seek to become authorities on their work and be recognized as such.

After completing trade school, it could be daunting to think that you still need special certification or further study to take on high-paying projects or operate a contract company of your own. However, licensed contractors carry a reputation of competence, approval, and security that clients expect and appreciate. Seeking proper licensure helps you build positive relationships with clients, communities, local and state governments, and even other contractors dedicated to the same caliber of work. By continuing your education and earning your license, you can do justice to the trade that you love by learning and maintaining the laws and practices put in place for everyone’s benefit.


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