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Can a Felon Become a Contractor?

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There are resources available for felons who are eager to show they make good employees. Some felons may have an interest in the construction industry and in becoming a contractor.

This blog post will address the issue of whether or not a felon can become a contractor.

  • What is a Contractor?
  • What Education/Training Does a Contractor Need?
  • How Much Does a Contractor Earn?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action


What is a Contractor?

A contractor manages and coordinates construction work in residential homes or on commercial properties. In general, a contractor employs a combination of trade and management knowledge. This training may come through an apprenticeship or with working as a master tradesman.

There are more than 40 different contractor classifications. General classifications include:

  • Engineering contractor
  • General building contractor
  • Specialty contractor

Specialty contractors include:

  • Insulation
  • Electrical
  • Carpentry
  • Moving and demolition
  • Hazardous substance removal
  • Fire protection
  • Landscaping
  • Roofing
  • Flooring
  • Plumbing
  • Locks and security

Those who are successful as a contractor typically have certain particular skills:

  • Analytical skills to understand construction concepts
  • Visualization/spatial skills to see how a structure will look
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Logical decision-making skills
  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Organizational skills to keep track of projects
  • Time-management to maintain a strict schedule

What Education/Training Does a Contractor Need?

The Associated General Contractors of America oversees the contractor field. Contractors are required to be licensed in all states as governed by the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies. Licensing laws differ from one state to another.

The Building Trade Association and Associated General Contractors of America provide training, education, and resources to contractors. Most states require a licensed contractor to:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Be a United States citizen or legal resident
  • Provide documentation of other occupational licenses in that state
  • Provide two passport photos
  • Provide an explanation of any violations or citations from construction work
  • Post a state license bond

The application process for a contractor’s license may include:

  • Taking a written exam about construction skills and the laws of that construction industry
  • Providing proof of financial means to operate a contractor business
  • Providing reference letters from a bank, previous employers, and clients
  • Proof of on-the-job experience

Some contractors may complete a degree program in construction management, engineering, or science. Construction management programs usually include courses in:

  • Physics
  • Mathematics
  • Materials and methods
  • Surveying
  • Plans and measurements
  • Design

Construction education will also involve the basics of managing a construction project, including:

  • Estimates
  • Contracts
  • Scheduling
  • Human relations

A contractor may be required to obtain several licenses and permits in the state of residence. In some states, the contract may be licensed by the county or city government while in others licenses are granted at the state level.

It can take at least three years to complete an apprenticeship in a trade and a few years’ experience beyond that before selecting a contractor specialty. In most states, a candidate for a contractor position must demonstrate the following:

  • At least two years of relevant work experience
  • Letters of reference from contractors the applicant has worked for
  • A banking reference
  • Relevant professional qualifications from an accredited educational institution, including a state exam

A contractor will typically need to apply for:

  • Workers’ compensation
  • Employers’ liability insurance
  • Commercial general liability insurance
  • Professional liability insurance

Generally, contractors are required to get a license along with a surety bond. The surety bond ensures that a contractor will carry out his or her work according to state rules. A performance bond ensures a contract has been fulfilled according to its specifications.

How Much Does a Contractor Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were 403,800 construction contractors in 2016 with a median annual salary of $91,370 in 2017. The median is the salary at which half of contractors earned more and half earned less.

Experience will make a difference in how much a contractor earns annually. The area of the country in which a contractor works also makes a difference in earnings. Those in Texas, Louisiana, Alaska, and Colorado typically earn more than a contractor that works elsewhere.

This occupation is expected to show a 2% growth by 2024 with below average increase. Demand for contractors depends on the economy and the demand for construction work.

An Opportunity for Felons?

State guidelines through the Department of Licensing and Regulation in an individual state outline the process for determining whether a criminal conviction makes an applicant unsuitable for a license or whether a conviction will revoke or suspend a license.

General factors are considered in all cases along with the reasons why particular crimes are considered to relate to each type of license.

If an attorney decides that a contractor license shouldn’t be denied on the basis of a criminal conviction, then the application will be sent to the Licensing Division with a conclusion.

If an attorney decides a license should be denied due to a criminal conviction, copies of the relevant criminal convictions and any other information will be obtained. A letter of license denial will be sent to the applicant.

An applicant is responsible for obtaining and providing recommendations from the prosecution, law enforcement, and correctional authorities. There is an obligation to furnish proof that the applicant has:

  • Maintained a record of steady employment
  • Supported his or her dependents
  • Maintained a record of good conduct
  • Paid all outstanding court costs, supervision fees, fines, and restitution for any criminal conviction

The following factors will be considered in determining whether a criminal conviction should be grounds to deny a license:

  • Nature and seriousness of the crime
  • Relationship of the crime to the purposes for requiring a license
  • Extent to which a license might offer an opportunity to engage in further criminal activity
  • Relationship of a crime to the ability, capacity, or fitness to perform the duties

Further information will be considered regarding the applicant’s fitness to perform the duties of a contractor:

  • Extent and nature of the applicant’s past criminal activity
  • Age of the person when the crime was committed
  • Amount of time that has elapsed since the last criminal activity
  • Work activity of the applicant before and after the criminal conviction
  • Evidence of the person’s rehabilitation while incarcerated or after release
  • Other evidence of the person’s fitness, including letters of recommendation from prosecutors, law enforcement, correctional officers, and any other person with knowledge of the applicant

It’s essential to be honest in filling out an application for licensing as a contractor. If a felony isn’t disclosed but is found on a background check, this is fraud which is a punishable crime, which could result in being sent back to prison.

Having their felony expunged can give them the chance needed to begin with a clean record and succeed in becoming a construction contractor. Expunging a criminal record allows anyone to honestly state on an application that he or she has not been convicted of a crime.

Recommended Action

It’s a big challenge, but it might be worth it for a felon wanting to become a contractor. To give him or herself the best chance for success by having his or her record expunged and also documenting any programs, education, or training completed could be critical.

Having support from family, friends, counselors, or previous employers can make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime. We are defined by how we recover from our mistakes and not by the mistakes themselves. He or she can begin again and live an honest life no matter how difficult it might seem.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to become a contractor with a felony? What was that like for him or her, and how did he or she achieve success?  Please tell us in the comments below.

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