Structural Steel Contractors are highly skilled tradesman that specialize in the fabrication and construction of structural steel used for :

  • High Rise Buildings
  • Bridges
  • Railways
  • Factories and Structures
  • Planes, Vehicles and Ships
Two construction workers on top of steel beams as the sun is setting

C-51 Structural Steel Contractors License

This article will provide you with every single detail you need to know about how to get a C-51 license in California, requirements, the structural steel contractors exam, study guides, and even how to fill out the California state license application.

What is a Structural Steel Contractor?

Duties of a Structural Steel Contractor

The C-51 license can cover a variety of different duties and skill sets. Structural Steel can take on many shapes and is used as the internal support mechanism for buildings and structures but generally structural steel contractors engage in duties including: 

  • Rebar installation, shaping, and retrofitting
  • Erecting railings, ladders and cat walks
  • Maintaining and repairing various steel products
  • check
    Riveting, rigging and welding
  • check
    Construction blueprint plan evaluation, estimation and cost calculation
  • check
    Design and installation of metal roof system
  • check
    Placing and connecting of steel
  • check
     Operating cranes and derricks
  • check
    Maintaining personal and job-site safety
  • check
    Field and shop preparation
A crane hoisting a large steel beam through the air

Structural Steel Contractors engage in a wide range of specialized duties

To get the C-51 license, you will be tested on all aspects of fabrication, shaping, and installation of steel. You must be familiar with all of these disciplines. 

 A structural steel contractor is legally not allowed to bid on a project that falls outside of the spectrum of reinforced steel fabrication and placing.

Steel Subcontractors

Structural steel contractors typically work with  General Engineering Contractors, architects or developers. The C-51 license is typically held by steel contracting firms that engage in large scale engineering projects.

A General Engineering Contractor oversees that the structural steel subcontractor has executed their duties in adherence to code. Learn more about the General Engineering Contractor License

A steel beam with screws in it. Appears to be part of a bridge

Structural steel contractors typically work with General Engineering Contractors, architects or developers

The CSLB

Logo of the CSLB, includes an illustration of a paint brush, cement truck and saw with the letters CSLB above

Contractors State License Board

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is the governing body for all contractors in the state of California. Their responsibility is to protect the consumer public and ensure that anyone charging over $500 for construction services is qualified and registered with the state of California.

The reinforcing steel contractor license is issued to contractors by the CSLB. The CSLB administers applications, exams, and maintains a database of all active and inactive contractor license numbers which are public domain.

How to get the C-51 License

Structural steel contractors in California must prove a minimum of 4 years journeyman level experience and pass a two part state exam with the Contractor State License Board. To qualify for an exam date you must meet the the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have a valid Driver's License or USA Issued Identification
  • Have a Social Security or ITIN #
  • check
    Not Currently be 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 for documentation

What is a Journey level experience?

Man wearing yellow gloves and a blue hard hat , welding a large steel beam

Journey level experience is gained working un-supervised full time performing all of the duties associated with a construction trade

Journeyman level experience means that you have worked unsupervised full time for a structural steel contractor that holds the C-51 license.

  • A journeyman can perform all of the duties associated with his or her trade.

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-51 license:

  • Licensed General Contractor
  • C-51 License Holder
  • Former Supervisor (within the last 10 years)
  • check
    Fellow Employee (within the last 10 years)
  • check
    Business Associate
  • check
    Fellow Journeyman
  • check
    Union Representative

Filling out the C-51 License Application

Your Qualifying Individual will also need to provide a brief but detailed description of your knowledge and skillset. The way this description is written will be critical to whether or not your application is accepted. For example: 

"Rob has worked with steel for a long time” is not descriptive enough.

The CSLB will want to see something more like: "Rob has installed welded wire mesh, pre-tension tendons, fabricated steel reinforcing bars, erected rails, ladders, catwalksread blueprints, estimated for materials and done job site evaluations" etc.

Work experience for the Contractors License

You must be prepared to submit documentation supporting the experience you claim to have. The Contractors State License Board gives you a few ways that you can prove your experience.

  • Tax Returns
  • Check Stubs
  • Contracts
  • Material Order Invoices or Receipts
A large yellow crane next to an un finished skyscraper. when applying for the C-51 license for structural steel in california you may be asked to produce documentation supporting your four years journey level experience

The CSLB may request to see documentation of your work experience when applying for the C-51 license

The CSLB  receives thousands of applications per month so there is a good chance they won’t document your experience but 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 Processing, 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 some where 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 

Application costs for the C-51 License

The Current CSLB fees are: 

Can you get a Contractors License with a Felony in California?

Having a criminal record in no way stops you from getting a C-51 License. I have personally helped guys with all types of criminal records 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 primarily concerned with criminal charges associated with:

A white hand filling out a criminal background check form with a pen and a pair of glasses laying on the side

Be 100% Honest on Your Contractor License Application

  • 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. 

The C-51 License Exam

The exam will be:

  • 115 Questions on Contractor LAW
  • 115 Questions on Reinforcing steel 
  • You will have 3 hours to complete each portion
  • check
    The exam is multiple choice and is taken on a computer
  • check
    Closed Book

The Structural Steel ( C-51 License) Exam is broken up into 5 sections:

1. Planning and Estimation (27%)

  • Plans and specifications
  • Bidding and job cost estimating

2. Job Preparation (12%)

  • Shop preparation
  • Field preparation

3. Shop Fabrication (18%)

  • Fabrication
  • Finishing
  • Mobilization

4. Field Erection (19%)

  • Placing
  • Connecting

5. Safety (24%)

  • Personnel safety
  • Shop and site safety


CSLB Test Locations

Currently, there are CSLB testing locations in the following cities

  • Berkeley
  • Fresno
  • Norwalk
  • San Jose
  • Oxnard
  • Sacramento
  • San Bernardino
  • San Diego

Learn more about Contractor License LAW

Contractor License Exam Prep

Some things to remember:

  • 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

I have helped structural steel companies from all over the country get licensed in California. Many are startled by how strict the laws are here. 

Be as prepared as you possibly can. Studying just 10 mintues a day consistently can dramatically increase your chances of passing the test on your first try.

Focus on and study ONLY the information that you need to pass the C-51 License for Structural Steel.

Image of a construction worker holding a tool belt and red hard hat

To get the C-51 License you have to pass a two part exam

Steel Apprenticeships

A riveting machine that makes steel bolts

An apprenticeship program is an excellent way to begin a career in the steel industry

If you don’t have the 4 years required journeyman level experience to get a C-51 license, your journey begins here.

Steel is a global multi-billion dollar sector. Generally, someone looking to get into this trade would find union or apprenticeship program.

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

After gaining the necessary 4 years journeyman level experience, you would then be able to apply for the C-51 contractors license. 

Blueprint Reading Course

It is critical for structural steel contractors to be able to read construction blueprints or at least be able to recognize lines and symbols.

Construction blueprints communicate important information about how a structure has been built as well as what materials are necessary or have been used for its construction. 

Being comfortable with construction blueprints is an invaluable skill for all tradesman but is especially important for those looking to get the C-51 license. See our Free Blueprint Reading Course.

a blue construction print with a yellow pencil and ruler sitting on top

Blueprint reading is essential for structural steel contractors

OSHA Certification

Statistically, 21% of all work-related fatalities are in construction. That equals about 1 and 5 worker deaths on average. In the construction industry, the leading cause of worker deaths is reported as falls, struck by an object, electrocution, and caught-in/between.

featured image for a blog post about OSHA safety laws. Those looking to get the C-51 license for structural steel should strongly consider enrolling into an OSHA training course

Occupation Safety Hazard Association

The steel industry is notoriously dangerous, especially if your workers are not properly trained. For employment with a steel contractor its typically required that you have completed some level of OSHA training. Learn more about OSHA Training.

Conclusion

Getting the C-51 License can be a huge step up in your career if you are looking to start your own company or become an RMO for an existing firm! The key is to take action and follow these steps from beginning to end. 

If you have found this article helpful feel free to drop a comment below and be sure to check back for updates!

About the Author

Digital Constructive is the #1 Online Resource for Construction Professionals

Save Time and Energy:

Stay Up To Date On Changes To Contractor License LAW!