How To Get Your General Contractor’s License in California

Construction is always in demand, and working in this industry can mean a long and lucrative career. In California, opportunities for construction professionals are plentiful, considering California’s growing population and diverse landscape.

Working in California means almost year-round construction thanks to beautiful weather and little rainfall. For general contractors, this means easy scheduling and plenty of job opportunities, making it an incredible place for young GCs to establish their business. 

At OnePointe Solutions, we have worked with countless GC’s, especially in California, to design labs, as well as create, build and install custom laboratory furniture, industrial workbenches, and commercial cabinets for their various projects.

If you enjoy construction, have a flair for management, are willing to work hard, and can jump into any role when needed, you could have a future career as a general contractor. General contractors are in charge of overseeing construction projects and have a hand in everything from the initial bidding process to the final grand opening of a building.

In California, there are specific qualifications you must meet to become a licensed general contractor. This guide will cover all the basics of getting your general contractor’s license so you can feel prepared going into the application process. 

Job Description: General Contractor

The job of a general contractor includes a lot of moving parts since general contractors are essentially the managers of a building project. General contractors establish, organize, and oversee every step of the process, and are usually one of the first points of contact for a client. 

Before a construction company can begin working on any project, they must first earn the contract. General contractors – in collaboration with construction estimators – create comprehensive estimates of all predicted labor, material, and equipment costs to provide an approximate project bid to the client.

If the bid is accepted, the general contractor can begin working within that budget to acquire materials and equipment and to hire a team. In the world of construction, OnePointe Solutions has become one of the go-to vendors for general contractors for materials and expertise, from stainless steel and epoxy resin to lab design, industrial furniture, and more!

Once building begins, many general contractors prefer to work personally on-site with their team, taking on the role of foreman. In other cases, GC’s may delegate managerial tasks to site managers.

In all cases, the safety and efficiency of everyone on-site is the responsibility of the general contractor. 

While on-site, general contractors are in charge of the following: 

  • Crew safety
  • Equipment and site safety
  • Permits and street closures
  • Anticipating weather conditions and scheduling accordingly
  • Enforcing quality and safety standards

Special Skills & Qualifications

There are no federal guidelines for general contractors, and specific requirements are left up to individual states to decide. In California, the process includes a variety of exams, applications, and fees – which you’ll learn more about later in this guide.

Before we cover specific state-mandated qualifications, let’s discuss some special skills that will help you stand out from the crowd. Many of these skills are natural, and can’t be taught or learned, but are vital for performing work as a general contractor: 

  • Ability to read building plans and blueprints
  • Building/construction skills
  • Excellent time management and organizational skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Strong interpersonal and communication skills
  • Budget and purchasing experience
  • Comfortable working with new people
  • Able to learn quickly and in stressful situations
  • Concern for the wellbeing of others and a touch of perfectionism

Qualifications to Become a General Contractor in California

If you think you might be a fit for a job as a general contractor, you will need to meet several qualifications as required by the Contractors State Licensing Board. All individuals overseeing construction projects costing more than $500 (including all materials, labor, etc.) must be licensed to legally work as a California general contractor.

To become a licensed general contractor, you’ll need to satisfy these requirements:

Education

General contractors are not required to complete any formal education, but if you want to enter the construction industry, you should complete a high school education or equivalent. Construction professionals must be at least 18, so entry-level positions may be available to new high school graduates.

If you choose to go to college and pursue higher education, consider a degree in a relevant field like engineering, construction management, architecture, or something similar. Many successful general contractors do not have college degrees, though additional education can often be helpful on the road to success. 

Experience

More important than education is experience. In California in particular, general contractor license applicants must be able to show that they have a minimum of four years of professional experience in construction.

Gaining experience as a journeyperson, foreperson, and supervising employee is excellent training for a future as a general contractor, and can help you to figure out whether or not the industry is for you. 

In some cases, some applicants may be able to replace professional experience with technical education; i.e. individuals who attend a trade school or technical college. Other exempt applicants may include retired military personnel or individuals able to prove relevant knowledge for the position. 

Class Applications

California offers general contractors a choice between three distinct types of licenses: 

  • General Engineering Contractor License (Class A): Contractors specializing in engineering projects with relevant qualifications and/or experience
  • General Building Contractor License (Class B): Contractors overseeing ‘standard’ building projects including new construction, additions, repairs, and related trades
  • Specialty Contractor License (Class C): Contractors with special skills – i.e. asbestos removal, electrical engineering, demolition, etc.

Regardless of which class you’ll be applying for, you will need to fill out an application for original contractor license and mail it to the Contractors State License Board in Sacramento with a non-refundable $330 application fee. In addition to this application, applicants must pay for a fingerprint livescan ($49) and submit to a standard background check.  Applications should be mailed to: P.O. Box 26000, Sacramento, CA 95826.

Exams

All general contractor applicants are required to take and pass the California Business and Law Exam. Relatively straightforward, this exam covers basic on-site safety, finances, and other basic contractor requirements.

A study guide for the California Business and Law Exam can be found on the CSLB website, and applicants will receive their exam date and time once their application is submitted. Your initial $330 application fee covers your first exam, but should you need to take it a second time, there will be a $60 rescheduling fee. 

In order to prepare general contractors for possible contact with asbestos, applicants must also complete an open-book examination on the basics of asbestos and the risks of exposure. This exam is not a certification but is for training purposes.

If you are applying for a Class C license, you may be required to take and pass additional trade-specific exams

Financial Documents

Once you pass your exams, the final step in the licensing process is to provide the appropriate financial documents. Final documentation should be submitted to the CSLB along with a $200 licensing fee plus an additional $75 for each additional classification. For example, if you apply for both a class B and a class C license, your license fee will be $275. Accepted licenses are granted for two-year periods. Renewals requested before the expiration date of your first license will cost $450.

Contractor’s Bond

When submitting your final financial documents, you will need to include a contractor’s bond of at least $15,000. Additional deposits may be required under certain circumstances. 

Insurance

Also included in your final submission should be proof of worker’s compensation insurance. 

California General Contractor Licensing Fee Overview

Exact licensing fees will vary depending on the individual’s circumstances. In general, you can expect to pay the following during the process of gaining your contractor license: 

  • Original Contractor License application fee – $330
  • Fingerprint livescan – $49
  • Exam rescheduling fee – $60
  • Licensing fee (2 years) – $200
  • Additional license fee – $75
  • Renewal fees – $450

Average California General Contractor Salary & Benefits

With lots of construction opportunities available for contractors in California, the state has become a popular hotspot for general contractors. As such, there is a fair amount of competition, but still, plenty of work to go around. On average, general contractors in California can expect to make between $30,000 and $100,000 per year, with some contractors making upwards of $150-$200K for larger commercial projects. 

The Path to Become a General Contractor in California

If you think you could be a good fit for a career as a general contractor and are ready to begin pursuing your goals, now is the perfect time to start! Here is a simple description of the path you’ll take in your career: 

1. Finish Basic Education

Complete your high school education, or obtain a GED. Once you are 18, you can begin applying for entry-level positions in construction.

2. Get 4 Years of Professional Experience

The California State Licensing Board requires all general contractor applicants to have a minimum of 4 years of professional experience in construction. If you attended a trade school, have equivalent experience, or are a military veteran, you may qualify for an exemption.

Experience includes work as a journeyperson, foreperson, or supervising an employee. 

3. Complete Initial Class Application

Once you meet the basic requirements, you can complete your initial application. Contractors can apply for one of three licenses: 

  1. General Engineering Contractor License
  2. General Building Contractor License
  3. Specialty Contractor License

All applications include a non-refundable fee of $330 and should be submitted via mail along with your fingerprints. 

4. Fingerprinting & Background Check

Applicants must pay for livescan fingerprinting as well as a standard background check. Total fees for this process are $49, and copies of all documentation should be submitted with your initial application. 

5. Pass California Business and Law Exam

If your application is accepted, the California State Licensing Board will contact you directly with the time of your exam and all relevant information. Study guides are available online, and most of these exams can be completed quickly and without extensive study.

The first exam you will need to take is the California Business and Law Exam. If you do not pass your exam or need to reschedule, you will need to pay a rescheduling fee of $60.

The California Business and Law Exam is required by all contractors, but class C contractors may need to take additional trade-specific exams. 

6. Pass Asbestos Open-Book Exam

In addition to the California Business and Law Exam, applicants must take an open-book asbestos safety and awareness exam, which provides vital education to keep contractors safe from asbestos. 

7. Submit Financial Documents

Once you pass your exams, it is time to submit your final documentation to the CSLB. Your submission should include a minimum $15,000 contractors bond, and proof of workers compensation insurance. 

8. Pay Licensing Fees

Finally, you will need to pay an initial licensing fee of $200, plus an additional $75 for extra classifications. This final payment should be submitted along with your financial documents. The initial licensing fee covers a two-year period, and all subsequent renewals will cost $450 if completed on time.

Need Lab Furniture For Your Project?

If you’re a general contractor in California or another state in the U.S. and need laboratory furniture or help with designing a lab for an upcoming project, us a call at (866) 222-7494 to speak to a laboratory consultant today.

Questions? Concerns? Want to start today? Get in touch. 866.612.7312

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