Building contractors run their own businesses and plan, supervise and work on the construction and alteration of buildings.
Pay rates for building contractors vary according to the success of their business.
There are no set pay rates for building contractors, and what you earn depends on your ability, how often you work and what type of building work you do.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Building contractors may do some or all of the following:
- discuss building plans with architects, clients and tradespeople
- hire and supervise tradespeople such as electricians and plumbers
- organise details of contracts
- decide on materials needed
- estimate the cost of jobs
- arrange building consents
- construct, alter and repair buildings
- ensure building standards and correct health and safety practices are met
- keep accounts and collect payments.
Skills and knowledge
Building contractors need to have:
- building and carpentry skills
- ability to interpret building plans and drawings
- knowledge of building methods and materials
- knowledge of building standards and safety regulations
- knowledge of health and safety procedures on building sites
- maths skills
- small business skills.
- may work irregular or long hours, and on weekends
- work on building sites or existing buildings
- work in all types of weather and in conditions that may be muddy, noisy and dusty
- may travel within their region for work.
What's the job really like?
Why choose building and construction? Apprentices explain what they enjoy about their work – 1.32 mins. (Video courtesy of Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation)
Cody: You can work closely with other people, you can have a laugh at the same time as doing your job, doing your work.
Cale: When I left school I wanted to be a builder, I went away from it, I worked as a snowboard instructor. The opportunity came up for the apprenticeship and I took it. I haven't looked back.
Scott: I just love the atmosphere that you come to, you come to work you're with a bunch of dudes who are here to do the same thing as you, there is no rivalry in it, it's just cameraderie more so.
Desiree: I get to see a house from start to finish, I make a house look beautiful.
William: It's just a great industry to be in. There's plenty of opportunities out there for you to further yourself.
There's so many different aspects to building that you don't realise until you start doing it.
Anna: Yeah it's all go, you're learning something, you're being taught something, you're practising something.
Cody: I get to earn money while I learn, that's the cool thing, I don't have to be in any student debt.
A whole lot of good people you get to meet, the big sites you get to work on.
Anna: The benefit of being an apprentice is that you are learning so much every day.
Cale: When you complete you're a qualified tradesman. You don't go to university, study for four years and then go into an internship, you come out qualified ready to go.
Bill: I get a real kick at the end of the day when I stand back and I can see what I've done in my day's work, it's cool to be able to know that "Hey look, I built that."
There are no specific requirements to become a building contractor, but most are experienced carpenters who have worked in the building and construction industry.
A New Zealand Certificate in Carpentry (Level 4) or other building qualification may be useful.
- Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) website - information about the New Zealand Certificate in Carpentry (Level 4)
- If you are an experienced carpenter with no qualifications, BCITO can assess your skills to see if you qualify for a New Zealand Certificate in Carpentry (Level 4).
No specific secondary education is required for this job, but maths, English, construction and mechanical technologies, and accounting to at least NCEA Level 2 are useful.
Year 11 and 12 learners can find out more about the construction industry, and gain relevant skills, by doing a National Certificate in Building, Construction and Allied Trades (Levels 1 and 2) through the BConstructive programme.
For Year 11 to 13 learners, trades academies and the STAR and Gateway programmes are good ways to gain relevant experience and skills.
These programmes may help you gain an apprenticeship, but do not reduce the amount of time it takes to complete it.
Building contractors need to be:
- accurate, with an eye for detail
- able to make good judgements
- able to work with a range of people
- motivated, as they often work independently and must find their own work
- good at planning and organising.
Useful experience for building contractors includes:
- carpentry work
- other building trade work
- running a small business.
Building contractors need to be fit, healthy and strong as they have to lift heavy materials and equipment. They must also be comfortable working at heights.
Some building work has to be carried out or overseen by a Licensed Building Practitioner. To get a licence, you have to prove your experience and/or have appropriate qualifications.
Find out more about training
- Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO)
- 0800 422 486 - email@example.com - www.bcito.org.nz
- New Zealand Certified Builders Association (NZCB)
- 0800 237 843 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.nzcb.nz
- Registered Master Builders Federation
- 0800 762 328 - email@example.com - www.masterbuilder.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Growth in building work means good opportunities for building contractors
Chances of getting a job as a building contractor are good due to:
- moderate growth in construction predicted to extend until at least the end of 2023, meaning more building contractor work
- the Government’s KiwiBuild programme, involving the building of quality, affordable homes over the next decade
- building work needed to upgrade leaky homes and earthquake-prone buildings.
However, like many building jobs this role can be affected by economic conditions. A downturn in the economy can lower demand for building contractors.
Building contractor on two skill shortage lists
The roles of project builder, building project manager and site foreman (building contractor) appear on Immigration New Zealand's long-term skill and construction and infrastructure skill shortage list. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled building contractors from overseas to work in New Zealand.
According to the Census, 34,344 building contractors worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Chances best with management experience
You can increase your chances of becoming a building contractor by:
- getting qualified in building supervision and building technology
- getting management experience on building sites
Self employment usual among building contractors
Building contractors work directly for clients, or as subcontractors to larger building firms.
- BRANZ and Pacifecon, 'National Construction Pipeline Report 7', August 2019, (www.mbie.govt.nz).
- Cooke, H, 'Govt unveils $12b infrastructure boost, much of it focused on roads and rail, 11 December 2019, (www.stuff.co.nz).
- Florence, G, chief executive, Certified Builders Association, careers.govt.nz interview, December 2019.
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Construction and Infrastructure Skill Shortage List', 27 May 2019, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Long Term Skill Shortage List', 27 May 2019, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Independent building contractors may progress to management positions in building companies or move into construction site management or project management roles.
Building contractors may specialise in commercial or residential building work.
Last updated 24 January 2023