Arrant Construction

Are Certified/Licensed Contractors the Same as General Contractors?

Are Certified/Licensed Contractors the Same as General Contractors?

When you plan a construction project, it involves navigating a maze of terminology, roles, and responsibilities. Two terms that often cause confusion are “certified/licensed contractors” and “general contractors.” While both play crucial roles in the construction industry, they serve distinct functions. This blog aims to demystify these roles, exploring the differences and similarities between certified/licensed contractors and general contractors. 

Certified/Licensed Contractors 

  • Certification vs. Licensing 

The terms “certified” and “licensed” are sometimes used interchangeably, but they refer to different aspects. Certification typically involves demonstrating expertise or specialized knowledge in a particular area through a voluntary process. On the other hand, licensing is a legal requirement set by local authorities, indicating that a contractor has met the necessary criteria to operate within a specific jurisdiction. 

  • Specialized Skills and Trades 

Certified or licensed contractors often specialize in specific trades or skills. This can include electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians, and other professionals with specialized expertise. They typically focus on specific aspects of a construction project and may work independently or subcontracted by a general contractor. 

  • Legal Compliance 

Certified/licensed contractors are bound by specific legal regulations governing their trade. This includes obtaining the necessary certifications or licenses, adhering to building codes, and ensuring that their work meets industry standards. Failure to comply can result in legal consequences and may jeopardize their ability to work on projects. 

  • Individual or Subcontractor Roles 

Certified/licensed contractors can operate as individual entities, offering their services directly to clients. Alternatively, they may work as subcontractors hired by general contractors to handle specialized tasks within a broader construction project. 

General Contractors 

  • Project Oversight and Management 

General contractors play a central role in construction projects, overseeing and managing the entire process. They are responsible for hiring and coordinating subcontractors, obtaining permits, ensuring compliance with building codes, and managing the overall construction timeline and budget. 

  • Multi-Disciplinary Expertise 

Unlike certified/licensed contractors, general contractors need a broad understanding of various construction disciplines. They must coordinate the efforts of different trades, including electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and more. General contractors serve as the primary point of contact for clients and are responsible for the project’s overall success. 

  • Licensing Requirements 

General contractors are typically required to be licensed, although licensing requirements can vary by jurisdiction. This involves demonstrating a combination of education, experience, and passing a licensing exam. Licensing ensures that general contractors have the necessary skills to manage complex construction projects. 

  • Project Budgeting and Contract Negotiation 

General contractors are involved in budgeting for the entire project, negotiating contracts with subcontractors, and ensuring that the project stays within financial constraints. Their ability to manage costs and timelines is critical to the success of a construction project. 

Key Distinctions 

1: Scope of Responsibility: 

  • Certified/Licensed Contractors: Focus on specific trades or skills within a project. 
  • General Contractors: Manage the entire construction project, coordinating various trades and ensuring its successful completion. 

2. Legal Compliance: 

  • Certified/Licensed Contractors: Must comply with regulations specific to their trade. 
  • General Contractors: Must obtain a broader license covering multiple trades and overall project management. 

3. Client Interaction: 

  • Certified/Licensed Contractors: May interact directly with clients, especially when hired independently. 
  • General Contractors: Serve as the primary point of contact for clients, handling project communication and coordination. 

4. Educational Requirements: 

  • Certified/Licensed Contractors: May require specific certifications or training in their specialized field. 
  • General Contractors: Typically require a more comprehensive education and experience in construction management. 


  • What is the difference between a certified contractor and a licensed contractor? 

Certification is often voluntary and signifies specialized knowledge or skills in a particular area. Licensing, on the other hand, is a legal requirement and indicates compliance with local regulations to operate in a specific jurisdiction. 

  • Are all certified contractors licensed, and vice versa? 

Not necessarily. While some certified contractors may also be licensed, the terms refer to different aspects. Certification is about expertise, and licensing is a legal designation. It’s important to check the specific qualifications of a contractor. 

  • What types of contractors need certification? 

Contractors in specialized trades, such as electricians, plumbers, and HVAC technicians, often seek certification. This demonstrates their expertise in their specific field. 

  • How can I verify if a contractor is certified or licensed? 

You can verify certification by checking with relevant industry organizations or the contractor’s own documentation. For licensing, contact the local licensing board or authority in the contractor’s jurisdiction. 

  • Do certified contractors have to comply with building codes and regulations? 

Yes, certified contractors are generally required to comply with building codes and regulations relevant to their trade. Failure to do so can result in legal consequences. 

  • What does a general contractor do? 

General contractors oversee and manage entire construction projects. Their responsibilities include hiring subcontractors, obtaining permits, ensuring legal compliance, and managing the overall project timeline and budget. 

  • Are general contractors required to be licensed? 

Yes, general contractors are typically required to be licensed. Licensing ensures that they have the necessary skills and knowledge to manage complex construction projects and adhere to legal requirements. 

  • Can a general contractor perform specific trades themselves, or do they hire subcontractors for everything? 

General contractors may have some expertise in various trades, but they often hire specialized subcontractors for specific tasks. Their role is to coordinate and manage the efforts of various trades to ensure the project’s success. 

  • How do I find a licensed general contractor for my project? 

You can find licensed general contractors by checking with local licensing boards, asking for recommendations from friends or colleagues, and researching online directories. Ensure they have the appropriate license for your project’s scope. 

  • Can a general contractor work on both residential and commercial projects? 

Yes, many general contractors are versatile and can work on both residential and commercial projects. Their expertise lies in managing the overall construction process, regardless of the project’s scale or type. 

  • What sets a licensed general contractor apart from uncertified or unlicensed contractors?


A licensed general contractor has met specific legal requirements, demonstrating their competence and adherence to industry standards. This legal designation provides assurance of their professionalism and ability to manage construction projects effectively. 


In the intricate world of construction, understanding the distinctions between certified/licensed contractors and general contractors is pivotal. While both contribute to the success of a project, their roles, responsibilities, and scopes of work differ significantly. Whether you’re planning a specialized task or overseeing an entire construction endeavor, clarity on these distinctions ensures that you navigate the construction maze with confidence and informed decision-making.

Scroll to Top