What Skills Do You Need To Be A Contractor/Builder?

If you’re just starting out in the construction industry, you might wonder what specific skills you’ll need to succeed in your career. Don’t worry – this is a common question that all beginners in any industry have when they’re just starting their careers.

In this guide, we’ll cover the essential skills that any contractor will need to survive as a construction contractor/builder, both now and in the future.

As always, we’ll keep our information specific and relevant to California as that’s our expertise – check in with your local contractor’s licensing board for information in your area.

Let’s begin!

Choose Your Contracting Career Path

When defining what skills you’ll need in your career as a construction contractor, it’s essential you understand what area of construction you’ll be working in.

Sure, anyone can start hammering some nails on a job site, but if you really want to succeed as a contractor, you really need to plan your future appropriately.

Do you want to be a specialist who works in air conditioning? What about a plumber? Maybe you want to be an engineer or maybe you want to oversee entire projects as a general contractor.

Contractor Licenses Across America

Whatever it is you want to do, you should be aware of the license, bonding, insurance, and other legal requirements surrounding the work you do. In many states, you may not need any of these to do work as a contractor. In many more states, like California, you need a license to be a contractor.

In California, the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is the governmental authority that oversees contractors and makes sure that they stay licensed. Anyone who does construction work over $500 in California without a license faces severe penalties.

The CSLB has three different designations for contractors, based on the type of work they do.

The CSLB Class A, B, and C Licenses

  • Class A (General Engineering Contractor License): This license group is for people who work on specialized engineering projects like overpasses, airports, and highways.
  • Class B (General Building Contractor License): This classification is for general contractors, whose primary role is constructing structures for support, shelter, and enclosure. It requires involvement in at least two unrelated building trades or crafts.
  • Class B-2 (Residential Remodeling Contractor License): This contractor’s license is specifically for remodeling contractors. B-2 license holders can only make improvements to existing residential wood frame structures, involving at least three unrelated building trades or crafts.
  • Class C (Specialty Contractor License): Class C licenses are tradespeople licenses in California – your plumbers, your electricians, your HVAC workers, and so on. The list is long – there are even classifications for tree pruners!

Steps to Obtain a Contractor License in California

Getting a contractor license in California is no easy task – which is why we suggest knowing exactly what contractor area you’d like to work in as your career.

Basic Eligibility Requirements:

  • Minimum age of 18 years.
  • Four years of experience at the journey level or equivalent.
  • Possession of a $25,000 surety bond for consumer and employee protection (updated from $15,000 in January 2023).

Application Process:

  • Submit a detailed application to the CSLB, including business details, license type, and personal information.
  • Undergo a criminal background check, including fingerprints.
  • Pay all fees.

Licensing Exam:

  • Pass the mandatory CSLB licensing exam, made up of two sections: the law and business section and a practical test specific to the applicant’s license type. For example, electricians would get electrical-related questions on their trade exam.

Bonding and Insurance:

  • Provide proof of contractor license bond and workers’ compensation and liability insurance.
  • Pay the initial licensing fee after passing the exam.

Additional Licensing Considerations

  • State Business Licenses: Additional statewide business licenses might be required to operate legally in your state. California has locality-specific licensing. For example, San Francisco requires additional licensing for contractors on specific projects.

Do I Need School As A Contractor?

As we’ve covered many, many times before – no, you do not need a four-year degree to get your contractor’s license, like many jobs.

While formal education is not a mandatory requirement for obtaining a contractor’s license in California, we have to recommend it, especially for the dreaded CSLB exam.

This brutal test takes 3 hours and consists of over 120 questions related to law, business, and your chosen area of expertise. Even the most seasoned contractors have failed it – adding time and energy to their budget.

One of the best things about being a contractor is not having to go to college, but the reality is there are some things you just have to learn in a classroom.

General Skills for Success as a Contractor in California

While every classification has its specific requirements, there are some general areas of expertise that ALL contractors should seek to master if they wish to be successful contractors.

  • Technical Skills: Specific construction skills relevant to your license class. Every license classification has specific tech skills you need to know.
  • Business Management: Skills in project management, budgeting, and client relations are essential to maintaining a business no matter what industry you’re in.
  • Legal Compliance: Understanding state and local regulations, building codes, and safety standards is critical. Fees or jail time await noncompliance.
  • Communication: Effective communication with clients, team members, and other stakeholders – an obvious one, like business management skills. This is so obvious, but many contractors don’t think to develop their communication skills!

Specific Skills For Class A, B, and C License Holders

Skills for Class A License Holders (General Engineering Contractor)

Class A General Engineering Contractors are involved in large-scale and complex projects that require a deep understanding of engineering principles. Here are the key skills they need:

  • Engineering and Technical Skills: Comprehensive, university-level knowledge of civil engineering, structural design, and understanding of infrastructure development.
  • Industrial Plant Construction Skills: You may need skills around building hazardous or critical facilities like refineries and chemical plants, which demand adherence to strict industry-specific standards focused on public safety.
  • Heavy Equipment Operation: Operating heavy machinery for earthmoving, trenching, and other large-scale construction activities. Yes – Class A licenses can do that!
  • Project Management: Overseeing complex projects, coordinating with various subcontractors, managing budgets, and ensuring compliance with safety standards and building codes​​​​​​.

Skills for Class B License Holders (General Building Contractors)

Class B General Building Contractors work on structures for human occupancy, such as homes and office buildings. Their skill set includes:

  • Carpentry and Framing: Proficiency in constructing the structural framework of buildings, which is essential as Class B holders are allowed to take on framing contracts.
  • Basic Electrical and Plumbing Skills: Understanding the basics of electrical and plumbing work for residential and commercial buildings. You don’t perform the work, but you need to know it.
  • Knowledge of Building Codes and Regulations: Ensuring all construction complies with state and local building codes.
  • Versatility Across Trades: Ability to handle multiple unrelated building trades or crafts, such as painting, flooring, and tiling​.

Skills for Class C License Holders (Specialty Contractors)

Class C Specialty Contractors focus on a specific trade, with over 40 distinct categories. Each category requires specific skills:

  • Trade-Specific Expertise: Deep knowledge in your chosen specialty, e.g., electrical systems for electricians (C-10) or plumbing systems for plumbers (C-36).
  • Certifications and Training: Many Class C licenses require trade-specific certifications or formal apprenticeships.
  • Up-to-Date Industry Knowledge: Staying informed about the latest techniques, materials, and regulations relevant to their trade.

The skills and knowledge you gain as a contractor are what makes you — and all of us contractors — worthwhile.

Don’t look at gaining skills and expertise as a negative thing, as an obstacle to be overcome. Instead, view contractor-related skills as a chance for you to build your expertise and capabilities…which will ultimately allow you to demand higher fees and make more money!

This entry was posted in Contractor Business, Contractor Jobs, CSLB News, Tips on by .

About CSLS

Contractors State License Service (CSLS) is the largest school in California devoted to the Construction professional. For over 23 years, CSLS has helped its students pass the exam to become licensed contractors in the State of California, licensing more students than any other school. From our main offices in Southern California, CSLS operates over 25 locations with full-service support and classrooms. We have grown to this extent by providing quality, professional services. In comparison, this provides 7 times the number of convenient locations than the second largest contractor school. Contractors State License Services is one of the only contractor schools in the state that is run by educators, not lawyers or people mostly interested in the bonding and insurance business. Contractors State License Services formerly operated under the oversight of the State of California's Bureau for Private Post Secondary and Vocational Education. As of January 1 2010, the new Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) came into existence replacing the BPPVE. CSLS now operates under the provisions of the California Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009 (CPPEA), Article 4 Section 94874(f). Our Mission is simple; We can help you pass your California Contractors License Exam. Celebrating our 25th year, CSLS has helped over 120,000 students pass the California contractor licensing exam to become licensed contractors in the State of California. Additionally, we offer complete home study and online contractor’s license programs to help you pass your California contractors license exam. CSLS offers licensing classes for all types of contractor licenses, including General Engineering Contractor, General Building Contractor, Specialty Contractor, Insulation and Acoustical Contractor, Framing and Rough Carpentry Contractor, Cabinet, Millwork and Finish Carpentry Contractor, Concrete Contractor, Drywall Contractor, Electrical Contractor, Elevator Contractor, Landscaping Contractor, Warm-Air Heating, Ventilating and Air-Conditioning Contractor, and many others. For a complete list of contractor licenses, visit www.MakeMeAContractor.com and tuned for more informative posts.