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"A trenching contractor is a limited specialty contractor whose contracting business is trenching only for foundations, pipelines, conduit and related trenching work" -CSLB.GOV
The D-56 is the classification required in the state of California for all persons looking to contract for trenching services where the cost of labor and materials exceeds $500
The C-61 Limited Specialty License is an umbrella term for all licenses that may fall under a more obscure category of construction work. They cover specific areas of construction and construction-related tasks.
Often if your skill set or business is limited to one particular portion of trade work, you could obtain a C-61 limited specialty license to contract over $500 for your services legally.
Trenching contractors provide a unique service utilized often within the public works sector, typically they engage in a wide variety of activities including:
Trenching contractors are typically hired as part of larger construction projects.
A General Engineering Contractor that could completing a large project that calls for specialized trenching services.
General Engineering Contractors oversee that the subcontractor has executed their duties in adherence to code and to the specific requests of a client.
For a more in-depth look at the General Engineering Contractor license check out this article.
The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is the governing body for all contractors in the state of California. Their sole responsibility is to protect the consumer public.
They ensure that anyone charging over $500 for construction services is qualified and registered with the state. The CSLB maintains a statewide task force that engages in sting operations to stop un-licensed construction activity.
Getting caught contracting without a license in California is punishable with fines up to $15,000 and 6 months in the the county jail.
The CSLB issues the C-61/D-56 classification for trenching contractors in the state of California.
When working in or around structures built before 1978, a trenching contractor may need to contain lead paint if it is present.
Knowing the correct procedures required by the Environmental Protection Agency is critical for tradesman working in a commercial setting.
Lead paint can travel miles through air, rest on soil, and enter air ducts causing potentially fatal respiratory damage.
All tradesman must be a source of information for their clients and community if they want referrals and repeat business.
Being able to read and understand blueprints is a core skill for anyone working in or around a construction site.
Identifying the area of a job site and potential structures that could effect the trenching process is critical.
Construction blueprints communicate an array of information to builders but also for someone engaging in excavation or trenching.
Being comfortable with construction blueprints is an invaluable skill for all tradesman, but especially for a trenching contractor who may be apart of a larger construction project. For a basic overview of Construction blueprints be sure to check out our Online Blue Print Reading course.
To get a trenching contractor license in California, you 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
You must also have:
Journey level experience is gained working unsupervised full time for either a trenching company, General Engineering contractor, union, or directly under someone that holds the C-61/D-56 classification.
Some Journeyman level tradesman have also completed apprenticeship programs. A Journeyman level tradesman can perform all the duties associated with his or her trade.
The state will want to see 4 full-time years experience within the last 10 years. The years do not need to be consecutive, but they do need to be 4 years in total.
The following people may be used as Qualifying Individuals to sign off on your experience when applying for the trenching contractor license:
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:
“Steve is a nice guy and very experienced” is not descriptive enough for the CSLB.
Your description will need to sound something more like:
"Steve has erected trenches for foundations, pipelines and tunnels and has extensive experience operating various types of digging and trenching equipment including ditch witch machines, power trenchers, rock saws, and mini excavators" etc.
For a full list of the exact verbiage to increase the likelihood of your application being accepted. Check out my article on filling out the CSLB application. The description written by your qualifying individual will need to include the core skills required for the trenching contractor license.
There is a possibility that the CSLB will ask you to submit documentation supporting your experience.
The CSLB gives you many ways to prove experience including: Tax Returns, check stubs, receipts, invoices and even contracts. Anything you have that can prove you have either run or worked for a company that offers trenching services.
The state board receives thousands of applications every month. There is a good chance they won’t request further documentation of your experience.
However, if your application is chosen for review, you must be ready to submit something. Once your application has been accepted, you should receive your exam date within a matter of weeks.
The average application processing time is between 6-8 weeks.
Typically, you receive your exam date with another 3-4 weeks notice before actually going to take the exam.
This time frame can fluctuate based on many factors including time of year (processing time slows down during the holidays), Criminal History, request to prove further documentation of experience. Mistakes on your application can also cause delays.
In total the entire process should take 90 days assuming none of the mentioned issues arise.
The current state fees are:
1. $330 State Application Fee ( one time fee per application sent to the state board )
2. $200 License Activation Fee ( paid every two years )
You will also need to pay for live scan fingerprinting.
Upon passing the exam, the state board requires you to have a Contractor Bond number.
A construction bond is a security deposit issued by a surety company. Bonds are designed to protect the consumer public against contractor default.
They act as protection mechanisms for clients from unethical or illegal actions performed by contractors.
Bonds also ensure that subcontractors get paid for their work. Furthermore, they ensure or that a contractor performs his duties as stated in a contract.
Construction bonds protect employees, suppliers, sub-contractors or clients against a contractor's failure to abide by an agreement. For a deeper look at bonding and fees, check out this article.
Having a criminal record in no way stops you from getting a C-61/D-56 trenching contractor license. Thousands of tradesman get licenses each year despite their criminal records.
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 the CSLB sees everything when you do live scan fingerprinting.
The CSLB handles criminal records on a case by case basis. Remember, the state board's responsibility is to protect the public.
In my experience, the CSLB are primarily concerned with criminal charges dealing with fraud, embezzlement, forgery, and financial related crimes.
If your conviction does not fall under these categories most likely, you will have no issues when applying for the C-61/D-56 trenching contractor license.
Be prepared to submit any court documents or prove rehabilitation at the state’s request. California requires you to divulge all criminal charges when applying for a state license even if they have been expunged.
Contractor licenses are broken down into four categories:
1) A-General Engineering
2) B-General Building
3) C-Specialty classes
4) C-61 / D-Limited Specialty classes
Each category of license except the D-Limited Specialty license class requires that you pass a TRADE exam. C-61 Classification licenses do not have trade portions.
You must only pass a LAW exam. The exam is:
The Law Examination is divided into eight major sections:
1. Business Organization (10%)
2. Business Finances (15%)
3. Employment Requirements (12%)
4. Bonds, Insurance, and Liens (10%)
5. Contract Requirements and Execution (23%)
6. Licensing Requirements (8%)
7. Safety (15%)
8. Public Works (7%)
You will take the Contractor LAW exam on a computer at a state testing facility.
Currently, the CSLB testing locations are in Berkeley, Fresno, Norwalk, Oxnard, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego and San Jose. The CSLB will assign you a testing center based on your location.
The test is not available online. The CSLB allows you to bring a pre-approved translator with you. The CSLB will grant you 18 months after your application is accepted to pass the examination.
You must wait three weeks before retaking the state exam ($60 per retake).
Getting your trenching contractor license is a smooth process if you have the right information. Understanding the difference between how it is everyday on the job versus what the state expects of you is critical.
I have been told by many contractors with decades of experience that they were not expecting the questions they saw. It can be confusing to see un-familiar terms used to describe tools or job site practices.
The Contractor LAW exam covers a number of different topics. Questions are presented to you as if you are running a large scale remodeling business with multiple employees.
Being prepared and knowing what to study is the most important thing you can do in ensuring your success on the contractor license exam.
Looking at some practice tests a long with explanations for as little as 10 minutes a day is a small investment to make, but will increase your likelihood of success.
If you don’t have the 4 years required journeyman level experience to obtain the C-61/D-56 trenching contractor license, not to worry.
Your journey begins here.
The construction industry offers an unlimited income opportunity.
Whether you are brand new or may have worked for a company offering trenching services in the past, there are books, certification classes, and courses are available in most cities and online to get you up to speed.
Usually someone looking to get into the trade would find an apprenticeship.
Getting hired by a trenching contractor would be your next step.
After gaining the necessary 4 years journeyman level experience, you would then be able to apply for the C-61/D-56 license.
For information on courses in your area or books to get you on the right path click here.
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