One-Stop Shop for Success
Contractors Career Centers offers comprehensive support to aspiring contractors
Aspiring to become a licensed and insured contractor, to start a construction company and to have that business flourish are attainable goals. Operating under the parent organization Contractors Career Centers, three separate business entities are working together synergistically to support the dreams of those aspiring to become licensed contractors in the state of California. These companies include Contractors State License Schools (CSLS), Construction Insurance Agency, Inc. and Contractors Business Centers (CBC). “We have tried to become a one-stop shop for our students,” says Ernie Barberi, who serves in a Director role at each company, handling everything from high-level operations tasks to corporate sales to property management.
For 35 years, CSLS and Construction Insurance Agency operated in conjunction with each other. As the newcomer, CBC was created about five years ago. Students will work with each of the divisions in order to start the type of business suited to them—whether a partnership, corporation, limited liability company or a sole proprietorship.
“The three companies have a combined force of 165 employees and 25 locations up and down the state of California—from Sacramento, the northern flagship school, down to San Diego,” Barberi says. The corporate headquarters is in Van Nuys, California.
Barberi has been with the Contractors Career Centers family of companies for 17 years and confirms that the organization’s belief in encouraging people to achieve their goals and advance their careers extends to its own people as well. “I started out in admissions helping people get their contractor licenses. From there, I became a District Manager, Regional Manager, Sales Manager and eventually Director,” Barberi says. “I know all facets of the school, and I’ve seen the results that have taken place in people’s lives and careers.”
Contractors State License Schools is the flagship portion of the company, having enabled students to pass the contractor licensing exam for 35 years. CSLS gives them an education on topics such as how to set up a business entity correctly, how to market effectively and how to obtain the types of insurances that they’ll need to start a contracting business. Founder and CEO David Mizener developed CSLS using what he calls the “Mizener Method”—attacking all applicable learning senses with audio, video, books, in-class instruction and online practice exams. “One of the things that makes us versatile is the fact that we offer home-study courses, which are self-study courses, as well as online courses and classroom instruction—or combinations thereof,” Barberi says. “The school can customize every program to fit anyone’s needs and has continued to provide instruction in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Adapting to Meet Pandemic Requirements
The hallmark of resiliency has served CSLS well as classes have had to fit into the changes required to address issues associated with the 2020 pandemic. Visual classrooms using Webex, already in place for years, have continued to prove effective. In-person classes, when allowed to resume, have been scaled back to accommodate fewer students at one time according to the size of the facilities. The new protocol includes everything needed to keep students and instructors safe—masks, temperature checks, hand sanitizer and social distancing. “In whatever venue offered, the classes are full, full, full,” says Mary Birch, Business Development Manager at CBC who works with Barberi taking care of corporate accounts.
Barberi adds: “When I joined the company, we had helped about 135,000 students to pass the California state board exam. I think by now we’ve facilitated licensure of about half of the contractors in the state of California, if not more.”
As long as students diligently study, take practice exams and follow the program as outlined, CSLS guarantees they will pass the exam the first time or it will pay for them to retake it. “We have a money-back guarantee, but we’re not here to give you your money back. We’re here to make sure that you pass the exam. We’ve been doing this for a number of years, and we know this works. Using our method, you are going to pass your exam,” Barberi says.
The goal—helping people in the community succeed—is the bottom line. Sometimes that means making non-natives aware that they can get their contractor license as long as they have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, also known as an ITIN, and pay taxes on their income. “In that way, we can help break up the underground economy by doing things legally and correctly, thus benefiting the recipients as well as our society in general,” Barberi says.
Another way CSLS contributes to others is by offering John Baker Contractor Scholarships. “Many times, we get people who want their license or want to take courses that will benefit their personal situation, but they don’t have the finances to begin with,” Barberi says. “They can fill out an application saying why they deserve a scholarship. At least one person is chosen each month—and the first step to financial improvement has been taken.”
Getting a contractor license doesn’t mean the jobs will automatically fall into place for the graduates. It’s a good beginning, but there’s more to learn. “We basically don’t want to just pocket the students’ money and leave them to fend for themselves. We want them to be successful in the long run,” Barberi says.
Through a partnership with the Southern California chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. (ABC), CSLS offers a mentoring program that provides assistance in many facets of business management and development. Several ABC-affiliated contractors, who have been in business for a long time, can guide graduates through the process of successfully tackling a first project. “The fee for this service is reduced by about 80% of the normal charge until the newly licensed contractors can get a solid start,” Barberi says.
Securing Coverage—Construction Insurance Agency, Inc.
As graduates get their licenses, Construction Insurance Agency steps in to make them aware of available insurance options they’re going to need, such as workers’ compensation, general liability, commercial auto and inland marine (which protects their tools). “We have insurance agents that specialize in construction only. They know the questions to ask in order to ensure the best coverage and get the best rates,” Barberi says.
Construction Insurance Agency also provides certificates of insurance if a newly landed job needs to be placed on insurance in case there is a loss. “For example, one graduate signed a contract with a golf course that listed requisites for working with them. We looked at the paperwork and knew exactly what they needed, got them quotes and they consequently landed the job,” Barberi says.
Continuing Education—Contractors Business Centers
The CBC offers employee training with the goal of increasing productivity. “Under the CBC banner, once graduates form a company and hire employees, we want to train their staff so they can succeed—not just as a company, but as individuals as well. The action of building their own careers results in more positive energy and productivity,” Barberi says.
Available instruction includes important foundational knowledge. Examples of topics covered include basics of blueprint reading; explanations of ICC codes; and OSHA 10 and OSHA 30 safety training and certification. Other classes include the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) lead-safe certification course and its Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP Rule) refresher course, which is for renovation specialists who may encounter lead in construction. Some of these have undergone adaptations to accommodate pandemic-related concerns. Blueprint reading is now offered online and OSHA currently permits OSHA 10 classes to take place online as well. Other courses that have been added to the online options include commercial and residential building inspection and electrical certification. EPA’s lead-safe certification, on the other hand, requires an in-person classroom setting because an instructor must physically watch as students correctly put on protective gear for the task—hoods, coveralls, shoe covers and gloves. No one could be certified during the early months of the pandemic, but live classes were allowed to resume in June 2020. This specifically affected The Home Depot installers needing their EPA certification.
“We go to the companies and determine what programs would best fit their interests and needs and enroll them,” Barberi says. “Sometimes their situation calls for multiple programs.”
The Home Depot, for example, has certified door and window installers. Depending on their job, they may also need a glazing license or a C-61, which is a specialty contractor classification for people who do multiple kinds of installations. These are just some of the many licenses that employees and/or their companies may need to secure. “My division works with the companies to determine all the correct licenses needed,” Barberi says.
Occasionally, companies prefer holding classes in their own facilities rather than having employees go off-site to CSLS training centers. In-N-Out Burger, which has its own in-house construction teams, is an example of this. “They call the classrooms at their facility ‘Hamburger University.’ Because they do things a little bit different from everyone else, we offer the In-N-Out Burger teams a blueprint-reading course using their own blueprints,” Barberi says. “In order for the burger chain’s remodeling crews to advance to the next level, they have to take this course.”
Attic Projects, an attic cleaning and rodent proofing company, required its own private mold-remediation class consisting of five of its employees at the CSLS’ San Diego location. “We’ve been able to address the pandemic and offer a safe way to get the information to our students. We make sure people are still able to get the certifications they need to function effectively,” Birch says.
“I bring businesses, such as construction companies or facility management companies, into CBC’s programs,” Birch says. “After 25 years of working with CSLS and now CBC, I’ve enjoyed running into students in the field, but I get a kick out of seeing the kids and even grandkids of previous students following their lead.”
Barberi concurs. “When Mary and I go out to companies, we run into a lot of our graduates who are now either the people in charge or are project managers. It’s kind of neat that people recognize who we are and that our company name is respected throughout the industry,” he adds. “Often the friends, family and employees of former students attend CSLS because they’ve seen what can be accomplished through the school.”
“We enable students to provide for themselves and their families—building the community in the process,” Barberi continues. “I feel like CSLS, CBC and Construction Insurance Agency, Inc., working together, help others achieve the American dream.”