What is a mechanical contractor? Roles, responsibilities, and job outlook

What is a mechanical contractor? Roles, responsibilities, and job outlook

Mechanical contractors manage systems that make buildings more than just non-functioning steel and concrete shells. Keep reading to learn more about what mechanical contractors do and how demand for their services is projected to shift in the coming years.

Mechanical contractor definition

As their title suggests, mechanical contractors install and maintain mechanical fixtures including, but by no means limited to:

  • HVAC units
  • refrigerators
  • building management systems (BMS)
  • plumbing

At the commercial level, individual mechanical contracting companies often offer all of these services. Indeed, this is the case with many companies on our list of the 50 largest mechanical contractors in America.

However, some mechanical contractors also specialize. This is especially common at the residential level (think of your local HVAC company, which is a mechanical contractor).

It’s also worth noting that while some mechanical contractors offer generalized services across many sectors, some specialize. For example, there are mechanical contractors specializing in managing pharmaceutical facilities.

It’s also worth distinguishing between mechanical contractors and mechanical engineers. Broadly speaking, mechanical engineers develop new technologies. Mechanical contractors take those developments and tailor them to a specific client’s needs.

What does a mechanical contractor do in construction?

When a new structure is being built, mechanical contractors install systems (such as the aforementioned examples) from scratch. As hinted earlier, their work’s scope also often entails coming up with the correct configuration for those systems based on the project’s needs.

Once the construction project is complete, mechanical contractors also provide maintenance and repair services. This may be arranged on a contract basis during the facility’s construction (read more about maintenance contracts here) or on an as-needed basis whenever issues arise.

What is a mechanical contractor’s salary, career path, and job outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists the median annual pay for mechanical contractors at $50,590. Mechanical contractors in the following sectors earn the highest median wages:

  • scientific research and development: $104,260
  • electronics manufacturing: $97,180
  • transportation: $92.650
  • architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC): $91,590
  • machine manufacturing: $82,190

The BLS also projects a 4% growth in employment among these roles, which is on pace with the overall job market’s expectations.

Mechanical contractors can enter the field with a high school diploma and receive additional on-the-job training. However, mechanical systems are becoming increasingly complicated. As such, the BLS reports employers prefer candidates with postsecondary credentials, whether they originate through apprenticeship programs or formal education.

Further, some states require licensing for certain types of mechanical contractors (i.e. HVAC technicians in California).

Prior work experience as a mechanic can also be an asset when applying for contractor positions. 

Skills required to succeed as a mechanical contractor

Next, let’s discuss the skills required to thrive as a mechanical contractor in the construction industry.

MATHEMATICS

Mechanical contractors often rely on mathematical problem-solving skills. For example, HVAC contractors must commonly run British thermal unit (BTU) calculations to determine the appropriate systems based on a facility’s size, shape, and other considerations.

In fact, few mechanical systems are one-size-fits-all, which means mechanical contractors of all types need to be capable of crunching numbers and determining the ideal solutions for their clients.

PROBLEM-SOLVING

None of what mechanical contractors do is necessarily straightforward. From acute installation issues such as systems crammed into tight spaces to broader workforce management challenges, problem-solving skills are tremendously important.

THE ABILITY TO WORK UNDER PRESSURE

Construction is a deadline-driven industry. It’s not uncommon for there to be several stakeholders waiting on a mechanical contractor to finish their part of the project. Technicians need to be capable of working under this pressure while maintaining safety and quality standards.

INTERPERSONAL SKILLS

Related to the previous point, mechanical engineers must be capable of working well with others. This entails a plethora of subskills, including:

  • empathy
  • conflict resolution
  • communication
  • negotiation
  • collaboration

SPECIALIZED HARD SKILLS

As mentioned earlier, the definition of “mechanical contractor” leaves room for specialization. Consequently, technicians working in these tailored roles often require distinct hard skills (i.e. knowledge of best practices for installing and maintaining industry-specific systems such as industrial boilers).

COMPUTER-AIDED DESIGN (CAD)

Mechanical contractors often use CAD software to create schematics and other drawings necessary for rendering their services. Proficiency in these programs ensures accuracy and efficiency.

BUSINESS SAVVY

Those looking to become subcontractors specializing in mechanical trades naturally need entrepreneurial skills. Not the least of these is scheduling since mechanical contractors often need multiple projects ongoing at once to stay viable. Thankfully, programs like Bridgit Bench exist to help mechanical contractors (and other types of subcontractors) with these tasks. 

Beyond scheduling, mechanical contracting company owners need to be adept team leaders, workforce planners, and salespeople.

How to become a mechanical contractor

Here are the steps involved in beginning your career as a mechanical contractor.

1. SECURE THE CORRECT PREREQUISITES

As mentioned earlier, employers often prefer applicants with training. Whether it needs to come via formal education or an apprenticeship would suffice largely depends on the type of mechanical contracting you’re looking to do.

General HVAC technicians, for example, often get their start via apprenticeships straight out of high school whereas mission-critical contracting work bears higher standards.

2. GET CERTIFIED/LICENSED TO WORK IN YOUR JURISDICTION

If you live in a state that requires licensing for your type of mechanical contracting, that will be your next step. Sometimes, licensing requirements may include spending a certain amount of time in the field, which your apprenticeship will likely count towards.

3. LOOK FOR WORK

Mechanical contractors are in high demand, as confirmed by BLS data. Consequently, finding a job shouldn’t be too challenging, especially as the industry is projected to add roughly 12,400 jobs by 2029.

Check out this article for a list of staffing resources savvy construction companies use. You can reverse engineer these strategies to find good employment opportunities.

4. NEVER STOP LEARNING

Your education as a mechanical contractor doesn’t end once you’ve completed an apprenticeship and landed a job. You’ll need to constantly upgrade – and add to – your skills to remain competitive.

Smart employers make this part of their human capital planning process, helping workers move through the ranks. If you don’t work at a company like this, look for informal opportunities to learn (i.e. shadowing a more senior colleague to learn their tricks of the trade).

Mechanical contractors play a vital role in construction projects and society. We hope this article has helped you understand what these professionals do, the skills they require, and how you can become one.

For more guides related to the construction industry, visit our blog here.


Brandon-Richard Austin

Brandon-Richard Austin is a writer and content strategist focused on the construction sector. He’s passionate about educating readers on construction management techniques and best practices.

Abstract vector created by www.freepik.com