Nearly one-half of all painters and paperhangers are self
Paint and wall coverings make surfaces clean, attractive,
and bright. In addition, paints and other sealers protect
exterior surfaces from wear caused by exposure to the weather.
Painters apply paint, stain, varnish, and other finishes
to buildings and other structures. They choose the right paint
or finish for the surface to be covered, taking into account
durability, ease of handling, method of application, and customers’
wishes. Painters first prepare the surfaces to be covered,
so that the paint will adhere properly. This may require removing
the old coat of paint by stripping, sanding, wire brushing,
burning, or water and abrasive blasting. Painters also wash
walls and trim to remove dirt and grease, fill nail holes
and cracks, sandpaper rough spots, and brush off dust. On
new surfaces, they apply a primer or sealer to prepare the
surface for the finish coat. Painters also mix paints and
match colors, relying on knowledge of paint composition and
color harmony. In large paint shops or hardware stores, these
functions are automated.
There are several ways to apply paint and similar coverings.
Painters must be able to choose the right paint applicator
for each job, depending on the surface to be covered, the
characteristics of the finish, and other factors. Some jobs
need only a good bristle brush with a soft, tapered edge;
others require a dip or fountain pressure roller; still others
can best be done using a paint sprayer. Many jobs need several
types of applicators. The right tools for each job not only
expedite the painter’s work but also produce the most attractive
When working on tall buildings, painters erect scaffolding,
including “swing stages,” scaffolds suspended by ropes, or
cables attached to roof hooks. When painting steeples and
other conical structures, they use a bosun’s chair, a swing-like
Paperhangers cover walls and ceilings with decorative
wall coverings made of paper, vinyl, or fabric. They first
prepare the surface to be covered by applying “sizing,” which
seals the surface and makes the covering adhere better. When
redecorating, they may first remove the old covering by soaking,
steaming, or applying solvents. When necessary, they patch
holes and take care of other imperfections before hanging
the new wall covering.
After the surface has been prepared, paperhangers must prepare
the paste or other adhesive. Then, they measure the area to
be covered, check the covering for flaws, cut the covering
into strips of the proper size, and closely examine the pattern
in order to match it when the strips are hung. Much of this
process can now be handled by specialized equipment.
The next step is to brush or roll the adhesive onto the back
of the covering, if needed, and to then place the strips on
the wall or ceiling, making sure the pattern is matched, the
strips are hung straight, and the edges are butted together
to make tight, closed seams. Finally, paperhangers smooth
the strips to remove bubbles and wrinkles, trim the top and
bottom with a razor knife, and wipe off any excess adhesive.
Most painters and paperhangers work 40 hours a week or less;
about one-fourth have variable schedules or work part time.
Painters and paperhangers must stand for long periods, often
working from scaffolding and ladders. Their jobs also require
a considerable amount of climbing and bending. These workers
must have stamina, because much of the work is done with their
arms raised overhead. Painters often work outdoors but seldom
in wet, cold, or inclement weather. Some painting jobs can
leave a worker covered with paint.
Painters and paperhangers sometimes work with materials that
are hazardous or toxic, such as when they are required to
remove lead-based paints. In the most dangerous situations,
painters work in a sealed self-contained suit to prevent inhalation
of or contact with hazardous materials.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Painting and paperhanging is learned mostly through on-the-job
training and by working as a helper to an experienced painter.
However, there are a number of formal and informal training
programs that provide more thorough instruction and a better
career foundation. In general, the more formal the training
received the more likely the individual will enter the profession
at a higher level. Besides apprenticeships, some workers gain
skills by attending technical schools that offer training
prior to employment. These schools can take about a year to
complete. Others receive training through local vocational
high schools. Applicants should have good manual dexterity
and color sense. There are limited opportunities for informal
training for paperhangers because there are fewer paperhangers
and helpers are usually not required.
If available, apprenticeships are usually the best way to
enter the profession. They generally provide a mixture of
classroom instruction and on-the-job training. Apprenticeships
for painters and paperhangers consist of 2 to 4 years of on-the-job
training, supplemented by 144 hours of related classroom instruction
each year. Apprentices or helpers generally must be at least
18 years old and in good physical condition. A high school
education or its equivalent, with courses in mathematics,
usually is required to enter an apprenticeship program. Apprentices
receive instruction in color harmony, use and care of tools
and equipment, surface preparation, application techniques,
paint mixing and matching, characteristics of different finishes,
blueprint reading, wood finishing, and safety.
Whether a painter learns the trade through a formal apprenticeship
or informally as a helper, on-the-job instruction covers similar
skill areas. Under the direction of experienced workers, trainees
carry supplies, erect scaffolds, and do simple painting and
surface preparation tasks while they learn about paint and
painting equipment. As they gain experience, trainees learn
to prepare surfaces for painting and paperhanging, to mix
paints, and to apply paint and wall coverings efficiently
and neatly. Near the end of their training, they may learn
decorating concepts, color coordination, and cost-estimating
techniques. In addition to learning craft skills, painters
must become familiar with safety and health regulations so
that their work complies with the law.
Painters and paperhangers may advance to supervisory or estimating
jobs with painting and decorating contractors. Many establish
their own painting and decorating businesses. For those who
would like to advance, it is increasingly important to be
able to communicate in both English and Spanish in order to
relay instructions and safety precautions to workers with
limited English skills; Spanish speaking workers make up a
large part of the construction workforce in many areas. Painting
contractors need good English skills in order to deal with
clients and subcontractors.
Painters and paperhangers held about 486,000 jobs in 2004;
most were painters. Around one-third of painters and paperhangers
work for painting and wall covering contractors engaged in
new construction, repair, restoration, or remodeling work.
In addition, organizations that own or manage large buildings—such
as apartment complexes—employ maintenance painters, as do
some schools, hospitals, factories, and government agencies.
Self-employed independent painting contractors accounted
for nearly one-half of all painters and paperhangers, significantly
greater than the one in five of construction trades workers
Job prospects should be excellent because each year thousands
of painters retire or leave for jobs in other occupations.
There are no strict training requirements for entry into these
jobs, so many people with limited skills work as painters
or helpers for a short time and then move on to other types
of work. Many fewer openings will arise for paperhangers because
the number of these jobs is comparatively small.
In addition to the need to replace experienced workers who
leave, new jobs will be created. Employment of painters is
expected to grow as fast as average for all occupations through
the year 2014, reflecting increases in the level of new construction
and in the stock of buildings and other structures that require
maintenance and renovation. The relatively short life of exterior
paints as well as changing color trends will stir demand for
painters. Painting is labor-intensive and not susceptible
to technological changes that might make workers more productive
and slow employment growth. Paperhangers should see slower
than average employment growth as easy application materials
and reduced demand for paperhanging services limits growth.
Jobseekers considering these occupations should expect some
periods of unemployment, especially until they gain experience.
Many construction projects are of short duration, and construction
activity is cyclical and seasonal in nature. Remodeling, restoration,
and maintenance projects, however, often provide many jobs
for painters and paperhangers even when new construction activity
declines. The most versatile painters and skilled paperhangers
generally are best able to keep working steadily during downturns
in the economy.
In May 2004, median hourly earnings of painters, construction
and maintenance, were $14.55. The middle 50 percent earned
between $11.59 and $19.04. The lowest 10 percent earned less
than $9.47, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $25.11.
Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest
numbers of painters in May 2004 were as follows:
|Residential building construction
|Nonresidential building construction
|Building finishing contractors
In May 2004, median earnings for paperhangers were $15.73.
The middle 50 percent earned between $12.23 and $20.71. The
lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.57, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $26.58.
Earnings for painters may be reduced on occasion because
of bad weather and the short-term nature of many construction
jobs. Hourly wage rates for apprentices usually start at 40
to 50 percent of the rate for experienced workers and increase
Some painters and paperhangers are members of the International
Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades. Some maintenance
painters are members of other unions.
Painters and paperhangers apply various coverings to decorate
and protect wood, drywall, metal, and other surfaces. Other
construction occupations in which workers do finishing work
include carpenters; carpet, floor, and tile installers and
finishers; drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and
tapers; painting and coating workers, except construction
and maintenance; and plasterers and stucco masons.
|Sources of Additional Information
For details about painting and paperhanging apprenticeships
or work opportunities, contact local painting and decorating
contractors, local trade organizations, a local of the International
Union of Painters and Allied Trades, a local joint union-management
apprenticeship committee, or an office of the State apprenticeship
agency or employment service.
For information about the work of painters and paperhangers
and training opportunities, contact:
- International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, 1750
New York Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20006. Internet: http://www.iupat.org/
- Associated Builders and Contractors, Workforce Development
Department, 4250 North Fairfax Dr., 9th Floor, Arlington,
VA 22203. Internet: http://www.trytools.org/
- National Center for Construction Education and Research,
P.O. Box 141104, Gainesville FL, 32614-1104. Internet: http://www.nccer.org/
- Painting and Decorating Contractors of America, 11960
Westline Industrial Drive, Suite 201, St. Louis, MO 63146-3209.
Source: Bureau of
Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition