The CSLB Class A General Engineering License: A Comprehensive Guide

If you’re a contractor, engineer, or someone looking to begin a career down either of these paths, you have probably wondered about the CSLB Class A General Engineering License.

This license covers all the activities of a general engineering contractor in California – everything from planning an interstate highway project to fixing the irrigation system on the Capitol building. We’ll cover what the Class A License is, what jobs you can do, what jobs you can’t do, and so much more.

Let’s dig in!

Defining the Class A General Engineering License

Outlined in the Business & Professions Code Division 3, Chapter 9, Contractors, Article 4, Classifications 7056, the Class A General Engineering Contractor license is required for individuals whose primary contracting work is “associated with fixed works demanding specialized engineering knowledge and skill​.”

According to the CSLB, a general engineering contractor is “a contractor whose principal contracting business is in connection with fixed works requiring specialized engineering knowledge and skill, including the following divisions or subjects: irrigation, drainage, water power, water supply, flood control, inland waterways, harbors, docks and wharves, shipyards and ports, dams and hydroelectric projects, levees, river control and reclamation works, railroads, highways, streets and roads, tunnels, airports and airways, sewers and sewage disposal plants and systems, waste reduction plants, bridges, overpasses, underpasses and other similar works, pipelines and other systems for the transmission of petroleum and other liquid or gaseous substances, parks, playgrounds and other recreational works, refineries, chemical plants and similar industrial plants requiring specialized engineering knowledge and skill, powerhouses, power plants and other utility plants and installations, mines and metallurgical plants, land leveling and earthmoving projects, excavating, grading, trenching, paving and surfacing work and cement and concrete works in connection with the above mentioned fixed works.”

Holy cow – that’s a lot of words!

In short, the CSLB Class A License is predominantly aimed at general contracting tasks encompassing construction, alteration, repair, remodeling, demolition, and the management of various large-scale projects including highways, roads, railroads, and other significant structures within the state of California. Usually, these projects are large in scale and involve teams of Class B and Class A contractors working to execute the project.

Class A contractors, unlike Class B or Class C contractors, have a scope of work that exists outside simple residential or commercial contracting. Unlike these other contractors, Class A contractors work on the “bigger” projects, often governmental projects, involving substantial expertise and scale.

You’ll see Class A contractors on every public works project. If someone’s building a new bridge; if you see sensitive excavation work; if you see a tunnel being dug for a new railway – all of these projects are being overseen by one or multiple Class A contractors.

In general, Class A contractors are “hands-off” contractors, usually involved more in the planning and management of the project, rather than being on-site to oversee teams or performing specialty work. However, Class A contractors may hold Class B or Class C licenses and may do work on their own projects in some situations.

Types of Projects Class A Contractors Do

Class A contractors in California are entrusted with the responsibility of executing fixed works that necessitate specialized engineering knowledge and skill. Unlike Class B and Class C license holders, that usually means big public works projects that involve tons of expertise in physics and engineering.

Usually, these projects are governmental projects where thousands or millions of people will interact with the construction. This high level of use means that an engineer’s knowledge and expertise are necessary to complete the project in a way that is safe and resilient for the public.

Here’s a closer look at common types of projects that Class A contractors take on:

Infrastructure Development:

  • Water-Related Projects: This includes irrigation, drainage, water power, water supply, and flood control projects. Water needs to be managed carefully, which is where an engineer’s expertise comes in.
  • Transportation Networks: Construction and maintenance of inland waterways, harbors, docks, wharves, shipyards, ports, railroads, highways, streets, roads, tunnels, airports, and airways fall under this category. Anything public and aimed towards the movement of people and things.
  • Energy Projects: Dams, hydroelectric projects, powerhouses, power plants, and other utility plants and installations are part of the energy infrastructure projects​.

Environmental and Public Health Projects:

  • Waste Management: Projects related to sewers, sewage disposal plants and systems, and waste reduction plants contribute to environmental sanitation​.
  • River Control and Reclamation Works: These projects help in controlling river flow and reclaiming land for productive use​.

Industrial and Commercial Constructions

  • Industrial Plants: Construction of refineries, chemical plants, and similar industrial plants requiring specialized engineering knowledge and skill are undertaken by Class A contractors​
  • Transmission Systems: They also engage in projects related to pipelines and other systems for the transmission of petroleum and other liquid or gaseous substances.

Recreational and Other Constructions

  • Recreational Facilities: Parks, playgrounds, and other recreational works fall under the purview of Class A contractors.
  • Structural Constructions: This encompasses bridges, overpasses, underpasses, and other similar works. This is probably the most common type of Class A job.

The Most Common Types Of Class A Construction Projects 2023

Here are the most common types of projects Class A license holders are involved in this year:

  • Airport Construction and Renovation: Involves the building of runways, terminals, and control towers, requiring precision in large-scale construction and adherence to strict aviation regulations.
  • Railroad Construction: Class A contractors are responsible for laying new railroad tracks, constructing train stations, and maintaining rail system infrastructure.
  • Dam Construction and Maintenance: Building new dams for water reservoirs or hydroelectric power, as well as maintaining and upgrading existing dams. You’re seeing fewer of these projects, however, as the environmental impact of dams is becoming more clear as climate change wreaks havoc on our world.
  • Tunneling and Underground Construction: Constructing tunnels for transportation, utilities, or water systems, often involving complex geological and environmental considerations. One of the most common Class A projects.
  • Port and Harbor Development: Constructing docks, piers, and related maritime facilities, requiring knowledge of marine engineering and environmental impacts. These are huge undertakings that require teams of Class A contractors to get done.
  • Large-scale Solar or Wind Farm Installation: Planning and installation of renewable energy farms, including the setup of solar panels or wind turbines and connecting them to the power grid. Very popular at this moment in time.
  • Industrial Plant Construction: Building facilities such as refineries, chemical plants, or manufacturing units, which require adherence to strict industry-specific standards, usually aimed toward public safety.

Can A Class A Contractor Do Construction Work?

Class A contractors are allowed to self-perform work falling within their license classification, which includes an extensive range of construction activities. Here’s a breakdown of construction tasks and how they relate to Class A work.

  • Direct Execution by Class A Contractors:
    • Class A contractors can personally execute tasks that are integral to their engineering projects. For example, they might directly handle aspects of concrete work, earthmoving, and structural framework construction, especially if these tasks are critical to the overall engineering project.
    • They have the license and legal authority to perform such tasks without needing to subcontract, provided they have the necessary skills and resources.
  • Subcontracting Specialized Work:
    • For tasks that require specialized trade skills not covered by their license or expertise, Class A contractors often subcontract these to Class C (specialty) contractors. This includes work like detailed electrical installations, specialized plumbing, or intricate metalwork.
    • Subcontracting is also common for tasks that are part of the project but not within the core expertise of the Class A contractor, such as specialized aspects of building construction or finishing work.
  • Project Size and Complexity:
    • In large-scale projects, which are typical for Class A contractors, direct hands-on involvement in every task is often impractical. Therefore, while they can legally perform many construction tasks, the scale and complexity of their projects usually necessitate the use of subcontractors for efficiency and expertise.
    • For smaller or less complex components of a project, a Class A contractor might choose to do the work directly, especially if it falls within their area of expertise or if it’s more cost-effective.
  • Management and Oversight:
    • A significant role of Class A contractors is the overall project management and oversight. This often includes coordinating with various subcontractors, ensuring compliance with safety and building codes, and maintaining the project schedule and budget.
    • Their primary focus is on ensuring that all aspects of the construction project, whether performed by them or by subcontractors, meet the required standards and specifications.

Do You Need An Engineering Degree To Be A Class A Contractor?

The common thread among these diverse projects is the requirement for specialized engineering knowledge and skills – an undertaking that usually requires higher education.

While you technically do not need a bachelor’s degree or equivalent 4-year degree in engineering, it is all but necessary for you to find any real work. Nobody is going to trust a multi-billion dollar public works project to someone who hasn’t got the mathematical, physical, and engineering skills to safely and properly do engineering work.

That’s why most colleges and universities in the U.S. offer engineering degrees. Without a strong basis in engineering knowledge, there’s no way you’re passing the CSLB exam, let alone getting hired by an engineering firm.

In short – while you technically do not need an engineering degree to get your Class A license, in practice, you absolutely need it. Where the rubber meets the road, all Class A engineers must have the knowledge and expertise a 4-year engineering degree gives you.
significance of staying updated with the latest amendments and requirements.


A Class A General Engineering license is a golden ticket for many construction professionals who are burned out on the day-to-day grind of on-site construction, or for young people just entering the workforce who want a consistent, steady job that pays well and doesn’t require them to be out in the elements 200 days a year.

If you want to be a part of the construction industry but want to do it from the comfort of a desk – the Class A General Engineering license is probably for you. Just get ready to head back to school!

Additional Reading

CSLB Official Website
CSLB Examination Study Guides
CSLB Examination FAQs
California Contractors Exam Study Materials

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