how to get your C-12 license for earthwork paving and asphalt contractors in California

C-12 License: Earthwork and Paving Contractors

Table of Contents

What is a C-12 License?

Bulldozer and heavy construction equipment equipment grading land

An earthwork and paving contractor digs, moves, and places material forming the surface of the earth, other than water, in such a manner that a cut, fill, excavation, grade, trench, backfill, or tunnel (if incidental thereto) can be executed, including the use of explosives for these purposes. This classification includes the mixing, fabricating and placing of paving and any other surfacing materials.CSLB.GOV

The C-12 License is the classification required in the state of California for all persons looking to bid on projects involving:

  • Excavation
  • Bulldozing
  • Demolition
  • Grading
  • Earthwork
  • Asphalt paving 
  • Land clearing 
  • Surface Improvement

A C-12 Earthwork and Paving Contractor legally is not allowed to bid on a project that falls outside of the spectrum of general earthwork. ​

The following professional titles are all essentially interchangeable:

  • Earthwork Contractors
  • Asphalt Contractor
  • Grading Contractor
  • Excavation Contractor

Their main goal is to ensure that there is a level slope and that the soil foundation is solid enough to support a building or structure.

This enormous task in effect makes the Earthwork and Paving contractor a highly in-demand construction professional.

Online Practice Exams and Study Guide

Duties of an Earthwork and Paving Contractor

Typically, in a construction setting, a surveying crew has identified the boundary lines of a project. An earthwork contractor would then begin executing their duties.

Some of the common responsibilities of an earthwork contractor might be:

  • Operating trenches, skid-steers, bulldozers, jack hammers, back holes and other heavy machinery
  • Various levels of excavation
  • Assessing soil geology and environmental impact
  • Inspecting job site, project layout, and estimation
  • Traffic Control
  • Soil Stabilization
  •  Soil Grouting
  • Injection Grouting
  • Earth Moving
  • Bull Dozing
  • Paving Asphalt

Larger companies that offer earthwork and paving services may have excavation equipment leased out for the various projects.

Small and medium-sized companies may rent equipment on a per-job basis.

Excavation companies may do jobs as simple as digging a hole for a swimming pool to something larger like excavating an entire city block for the construction of a skyscraper and everything in between.

Earthmoving Subcontractor

A general engineering contractor overseeing the land clearing process

In some cases, earthwork and paving contractors that hold the C-12 license work directly with a homeowner to complete a specific task like moving dirt or paving asphalt.

However, they may also function as a subcontractor to continually engage in land clearing services on multiple projects over an extended period of time.

These large-scale projects are often overseen by General Contractors. 

Additionally, a General Contractor would oversee that the earthwork portion of the project has been executed up to code.

There are two types of General Contractors: General A (Engineering) and General B (Building). 

C-12 License Requirements

To get a C-12 License in California, you must meet the following requirements set by the Contractors State License Board:

  • Be at least 18 Years of Age
  • Have a Valid Driver's License or USA Issued Identification
  • Have a Social Security or ITIN #
  • Not Currently on Probation or Parole

You must also have:

  • 4 Years Journey Level Experience
  • A Qualifying Individual To Sign Off on your experience
  • A way to prove your experience if the state asks

​​​​What is Journey Level Experience?

construction worker operating an asphalt paving machine

Journeyman level experience means that you have worked unsupervised full time for a construction company, a contractor that holds the C-12 License, or Union.

  • A journeyman finish carpenter can perform all of the duties associated with cabinet making, millwork and finish carpentry.

The CSLB will want to see four full-time years over the last ten years. The years do not need to be consecutive, but they do need to be four years in total. 

Signature of a Qualifying Individual

The following people may be used as Qualifying Individuals to sign off on your experience when applying for the C-12 license:

  • Licensed General Contractor
  • C-12 License Holder
  • Fellow Employee (within the last 10 years)
  • Former Supervisor (within the last 10 years)
  • Business Associate
  • Fellow Journeyman
  • Union Representative

Proving Your Work Experience for the C-12 License

an earthwork contractor engaging in soil testing

You must be prepared to submit documentation supporting the experience you claim to have.

The Contractors State License Board gives you many ways to prove your experience including:

  • Tax Returns
  • Check Stubs
  • Contracts
  • Material Order Invoices or Receipts

The CSLB  receives thousands of applications per month so there is a good chance they won’t document your experience.

However, if you are one of the applicants that get reviewed you will need to be ready to submit something. 

The CSLB does not accept pictures of projects.

Application, Fees, and Criminal History

The time it takes to get your application processed and assigned a test date fluctuates throughout the year.

Typically you can expect:

  • 6-8 Week Application Processing Time
  • 3-4 Week wait for an Exam date

I have seen some situations where applicants got their test date sooner and somewhere they got their test date much later.

The most common reasons your application would get held up are:

  1. Time of year (processing time slows down during the holidays) 
  2. Criminal History 
  3. Proving Experience
  4. Mistakes on your application 


The Current CSLB fees are: 

Filling out the C-12 License Application

The Contractors State License Board will require your Qualifying person to provide a brief description of your experience.

The way this is written is very important. For example:

“Alex has a lot of experience…”  will not be accepted.

The CSLB will want to see: “Alex has done backfilling, digging, soil grouting, injection grouting, soil stabilization, grading, and operating heavy machinery” etc.

Can you get a C-12 License with a Felony in California?

Large scale excavation project

Having a criminal record in no way stops you from getting a C-12 License.

Thousands of contractors get licensed each year in California despite having criminal records. Some of whom obtain multiple licenses.

The key is, to be honest on the application, even if the felony or misdemeanor happened years ago and even if it was expunged.

BE 100% HONEST ON THE APPLICATION, because they will see everything anyway when you do fingerprinting. The CSLB handles criminal records on a case-by-case basis. Remember, their responsibility is to protect the public.

In my experience, they are primarily concerned with criminal charges associated with:

  • Fraud
  • Embezzlement 
  • Forgery 

In the state of California, you are required to divulge any criminal charges when applying for any state license even if they have been expunged. You will need to be prepared to submit anything they ask for regarding your criminal history. 

Contractor License Exam

Contractor licenses are broken down into four categories:

1) A-General Engineering                            (LAW + TRADE )

2) B-General Building                                     (LAW + TRADE)

3) C-Specialty Classes                                    (LAW + TRADE)

4) C-61/D- Limited Specialty                     (LAW TEST ONLY)

  • 115 Questions LAW
  • 115 Questions Earthwork and Paving
  • 3 Hours To Complete each Portion
  • Multiple choice exam on computer
  • Closed book

The Earthwork and Paving (C-12 license) Examination is divided into four sections:

1. Planning and Estimating (23%)

  • Plans and specifications
  • Job site conditions
  • Estimating
  • Project layout
  • Materials and equipment

2. Earthwork and Grade Control (35%)

  • Grade control
  • Soils and geology
  • Excavation and trenching
  • Fill and grading
  • Soil grouting

3. Paving (22%)

  • Roadways, driveways, and parking lots
  •  Specialty paving
  •  Demolition and pavement repair
  •  Related paving activities

4. Safety (20%)

  • Job site safety
  • Environmental impact
  • Traffic control

Recommended Resources

CSLB Test Locations

Contractors State License Board Logo, includes image of a paint brush, saw and cement truck

There are CSLB testing locations in the following cities:

  • Berkeley
  • Fresno
  • Norwalk
  • San Jose
  • Oxnard
  • Sacramento
  • San Bernardino
  • San Diego
  • You have 18 months after your application is accepted to pass both examinations
  • You must wait 3 weeks to re-take the exam. ($60 Per Re-take)
  • You must score 70% or more

What is on the Law & Business portion of the Finish Carpentry Contractor License exam?

C-12 License Exam Preparation

  • The questions you will see on the exam may use outdated terms
  • Processes may be completely different from how things are done on the job site
  • You will see questions about things you may have never done before
  • Questions will be presented to you as if you are running a large scale construction business with several employees and jobs happening all at once. 
  • Know all aspects of your trade

Real world experience and the state exam

Large Red asphalt machine

Understanding the difference between how things are done every day on the job site vs. how the state will expect you to perform your trade is a very important part of passing the exam.

Applicants get surprised by how different the subject matter on the state exam is from their years of first-hand experience.

Study guides and practice exams

Getting the C-12 License can be a smooth process if you have the right information.  

Studying C-12 license test Questions along with explanations and diagrams for as little as 10 minutes a day is a small investment to make, but will increase your likelihood of success.

It will be essential to study a standardized resource that will give you the information that you need, which is to pass the state exam.

For schools, study guides, and C-12 license practice tests, and study guides designed to help you the state exam, check out my post on the best resources to pass your state exam.

Earthwork and Paving Apprenticeships

image of two construction professionals analyzing something. If you are looking to get a C-12 license, your best option is to begin an apprenticeship for earthmoving

If you don’t have the 4 years required journeyman level experience to obtain a C-12 License, not to worry.

Your journey begins here. Choosing the construction industry as a career path can be incredibly rewarding financially.

The construction industry is a trillion-dollar industry, and highly skilled tradesmen are always in demand.

Whether you are brand new to the industry, have dabbled over the years, or are coming back and want to brush up your skills, there is a myriad of resources available to help you learn the basics or get up to speed. 

Generally, someone looking to become a carpenter would want to look into an apprenticeship program or work under an experienced earthwork or asphalt paving contractor.

For a detailed explanation of this process, check out my article: Apprentice vs Journeyman.

Blue Print Reading Course

a ruler and notebook laying on top of a desk, cover image for a blog post showing you the basics of blueprint reading

Being able to identify symbols, drawings, and specs on construction blueprints is a vital skill for earthwork contractors.

Determining the scope and boundary lines are essential skills for those looking to get the C-12 license.

Blueprint Reading Skills are also critical to pass the General Engineering Contractor license exam.

Check out this Blue Print Reading Course for a basic introduction to the concepts you will want to know about.

EPA Certification

Earthwork contractors looking to get the C-12 license should be aware of EPA standards for containing lead paint

Understanding how to safely contain lead-based paint when altering structures built before 1978 is required by the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The most profitable finish carpentry contractors are ones that position themselves as the experts and are the most knowledgable and helpful to their clients. 

Becoming EPA Certified can help you expand your business and can be completed in a one-day 8-hour course.

Staying EPA compliant is not only important to the survival of your business but also to the safety of your customers.  

For a complete guide on how to get the EPA Certification, check out this article.