Many professional handymen have multiple skills. They can paint, put up drywall, lay tiles, repair faulty plumbing, and do simple electrical installations. Because of the wide range of jobs they perform, there is no single class, license, or training for a handyman.
Most handymen need a variety of technical skills to perform their jobs. As independent professionals, they also usually need business skills to find and retain clients. Based on your skills and interests, you can choose a niche and focus on customers who need specific services. The services you choose to provide as a handyman will influence the steps you take to start your career.
In addition to assisting an experienced professional handyman, you can take courses at a vocational or technical school, gain experience by working with a charity organization or increase your skills by working on your own home.
Community Colleges and Vocational Schools
Community colleges and vocational schools often offer technical diploma and degree programs. You can learn skills related to electrical work, HVAC, plumbing, home repair, or carpentry at these institutions.
You can choose courses that will help you specialize in the specific services you might want to offer as a handyman. These courses may also help you learn the necessary technical skills to pass the required licensing exams to work in some states. The biggest drawback of attending school is the cost and time. A technical degree may take one or two years, plus the cost of tuition.
Be an Apprentice or Assistant
One way to start is to work as an apprentice or assistant to an already-established handyman. You will have to work every day, but you will learn skills on the job without paying tuition and while earning a wage.
The drawback of this option is that formal apprenticeships can take three to five years, and the skills you learn will depend on the skills your boss has mastered and their area of expertise.
Volunteer as a Handyman
You can also gain experience as a handyman by volunteering for programs like Habitat for Humanity. This non-profit organization builds homes for the less fortunate. By volunteering, you can gain hands-on experience while networking, making new friends, and doing something that positively impacts society.
While this is a free way to learn and practice your skills, it is informal, unpaid, and will not help with any licensing requirements that you need to work as a professional in your state.
Learn by Working on Your Own Home
A simple and effective way to gain experience as a handyman is to work on your home. You can find materials online (on sites such as YouTube) or at a library to learn how to repair plumbing or lay tile.
This approach can give you lots of hands-on experience, and the only cost is the tools and materials. On the other hand, you cannot study complex repair tasks on your own, so you will eventually need to seek a professional or attend classes to learn some of the skills you will need in your career.
Handyman vs Contractor
The tasks that handymen and contractors perform sometimes overlap. They may even work together on some projects. However, there are some vital differences.
The main difference between a handyman and a contractor is that a contractor always requires a license to do their job. In some cases, a general contractor’s license is enough, but in others a more specific license may be required.
Contractors often handle specialized projects, such as plumbing, electrical, and HVAC installations. They may hire subcontractors to work on these jobs with them. Contractors need to follow state and local regulations. One part of the licensing process is passing an exam that proves you understand these rules.
Handymen typically carry out more straightforward tasks. While the licensing provisions may vary depending on state and specialization, there isn’t a strict licensing requirement for handymen like there is for contractors. Another difference between the two is the size and scope of their projects. While handymen work on small projects or specific tasks on larger projects, contractors work on extensive residential and commercial projects, often taking several months or years to complete.
You don’t have to choose between the two professions. You can start your career as a handyman and gain the experience necessary to apply for a contractor’s license. The advantage to this approach is that you can gain experience, business skills, contacts, and equipment while working professionally.
Necessary Handyman Skills
A handyman is a skilled professional, so it’s essential to have a wide variety of abilities that you gain through experience, training, or education. As a handyman, you can choose to work independently or as part of a team. Professionals who work independently or as subcontractors will need business skills as well as technical knowledge.
Here are examples of other tasks that a handyman may perform that typically do not require licensure.
- Changing light switches;
- Stopping running toilets;
- Painting walls;
- Replacing windows;
- Lubricating a furnace and cleaning air ducts;
- Changing door knobs or installing locks;
- Unclogging pipes;
- installing drywall;
- installing light fixtures.
Handymen need business skills to work independently. Even those who work for contractors on every project will need to perform estimates and track spending on materials. Here are some examples of business skills that a handyman needs to know:
- Creating estimates;
- Marketing your services and finding new job opportunities;
- Invoicing customers and creating detailed estimates;
- Accounting knowledge and knowing how to use spreadsheet and accounting software;
- Relationship-building skills to make connections with contractors, employers, materials suppliers, and customers.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for general maintenance and repair workers was $39,080 in 2019, which translates to $18.79 per hour. The job outlook is reasonably promising for these professionals, with jobs in the sector projected to grow by 4% between 2019 and 2029. This is as fast as the average projected job growth for all industries. Moreover, if you start a business, there is theoretically no upper limit to how much you can earn as a handyman.
Handymen have protections like insurance, which helps with liability while on the job. This coverage can provide peace of mind while you are working and building your business.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all handyman license, as each state applies its own requirements to the profession. It is essential to know the regulations covering the job in your state or city. In some states, you must be bonded or insured to operate as a handyman. You may also need a license in some states. In some places, such as California, you don’t need a license as long as each project’s total dollar value is under $500. In Oregon, that maximum is $1,000.
Licensing requirements can also depend on the technical complexity of the project. For example, many states require a license to do any specialized plumbing or electrical work. Hanging drywall or laying tile, however, may not require a license in these places. For help dealing with these regulations and the other challenges of this career, you can look for handyman associations or labor unions in your area. These organizations can advocate on your behalf, and you can obtain valuable information from them, such as insight into legislation relating to handymen in your city or state.