Achieving the American Dream
Contractors State License Schools, Construction Insurance Agency, Inc. and Contractors Business Centers are a business-building trio
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 the 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 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 based in Van Nuys, California.
Barberi has been with the Contractors Career Centers family of companies for 17 years and confirms the fact 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 license. From there, I became a District Manager, Regional Manager, Sales Manager and eventually became 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.”
First Step—Contractors State License Schools
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.
“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 the half the contractors in the state of California, if not more,” Barberi says.
As long as students show up, study, take practice exams and follow the program as outlined, CSLS guarantees that students 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. “We go to the companies and determine what program would best fit their interests and needs and enroll them,” Barberi says. “Sometimes their situation calls for multiple programs.”
Home Depot, for example, has certified door and window installers. Employees have to go through the EPA lead-safe course in order to achieve the lead-safe certification. 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.”
Mary Birch, Business Development Manager at CBC, works with Barberi taking care of the corporate accounts and coordinating the trade shows that serve as outreach events for the construction community. “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 that 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.”