Drywall Installers, Ceiling Tile Installers, and Tapers
Most workers learn the trade on the job by starting as helpers
to more experienced workers; additional classroom instruction
may also be needed.
Job prospects are expected to be good.
Inclement weather seldom interrupts work, but workers may
be idled when downturns in the economy slow new construction
Nature of the Work
Drywall consists of a thin layer of gypsum between two layers
of heavy paper. It is used for walls and ceilings in most buildings
today because it is both faster and cheaper to install than plaster.
There are two kinds of drywall workers—installers and tapers—although
many workers do both types of work. Installers, also called applicators
or hangers, fasten drywall panels to the inside framework
of residential houses and other buildings. Tapers,or
finishers, prepare these panels for painting by taping and
finishing joints and imperfections.
Because drywall panels are manufactured in standard sizes—usually
4 feet by 8 or 12 feet—drywall installers must measure, cut, and
fit some pieces around doors and windows. They also saw or cut
holes in panels for electrical outlets, air-conditioning units,
and plumbing. After making these alterations, installers may glue,
nail, or screw the wallboard panels to the wood or metal framework.
Because drywall is heavy and cumbersome, a helper generally assists
the installer in positioning and securing the panel. Workers often
use a lift when placing ceiling panels.
After the drywall is installed, tapers fill joints between panels
with a joint compound. Using the wide, flat tip of a special trowel,
they spread the compound into and along each side of the joint
with brush-like strokes. They immediately use the trowel to press
a paper tape—used to reinforce the drywall and to hide imperfections—into
the wet compound and to smooth away excess material. Nail and
screw depressions also are covered with this compound, as are
imperfections caused by the installation of air-conditioning vents
and other fixtures. On large projects, finishers may use automatic
taping tools that apply the joint compound and tape in one step.
Tapers apply second and third coats of the compound, sanding the
treated areas where needed after each coat to make them as smooth
as the rest of the wall surface. This results in a very smooth
and almost perfect surface. Some tapers apply textured surfaces
to walls and ceilings with trowels, brushes, or spray guns.
Ceiling tile installers,or acoustical carpenters,
apply or mount acoustical tiles or blocks, strips, or sheets of
shock-absorbing materials to ceilings and walls of buildings to
reduce reflection of sound or to decorate rooms. First, they measure
and mark the surface according to blueprints and drawings. Then,
they nail or screw moldings to the wall to support and seal the
joint between the ceiling tile and the wall. Finally, they mount
the tile, either by applying a cement adhesive to the back of
the tile and then pressing the tile into place, or by nailing,
screwing, stapling, or wire-tying the lath directly to the structural
Lathers also are included in this occupation.Lathers
fasten metal or rockboard lath to walls, ceilings, and partitions
of buildings. Lath forms the support base for plaster, fireproofing,
or acoustical materials. At one time, lath was made of wooden
strips. Now, lathers work mostly with wire, metal mesh, or rockboard
lath. Metal lath is used where the plaster application will be
exposed to weather or water or for curved or irregular surfaces
for which drywall is not a practical material. Using handtools
and portable power tools, lathers nail, screw, staple, or wire-tie
the lath directly to the structural framework.
As in many other construction trades, the work sometimes is strenuous.
Drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers spend
most of the day on their feet, either standing, bending, or kneeling.
Some tapers use stilts to tape and finish ceiling and angle joints.
Installers have to lift and maneuver heavy panels. Hazards include
falls from ladders and scaffolds and injuries from power tools
and from working with sharp materials. Because sanding a joint
compound to a smooth finish creates a great deal of dust, some
finishers wear masks for protection.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers learn
their trade through formal and informal training programs. To
become a skilled drywall installer, ceiling tile installer, or
taper, between 3 and 4 years of both classroom and on-the-job
training may be required, but many of the skills can be learned
within the first year. While there are a number of different ways
to obtain this training, in general the more formalized the process,
the more skilled the individual becomes, and the more in demand
they are by employers.
There are a number of different avenues that one can take to
obtain the necessary training. The most common entry route is
to obtain a job with a contractor who will then provide on-the-job
training. Entry-level workers generally start as helpers, assisting
more experienced workers. During this time, employers may send
the employee to a trade or vocational school, or community college
to receive further classroom training.
Some employers, particularly large nonresidential construction
contractors with union membership, offer employees formal apprenticeships.
These programs combine on-the-job training with related classroom
instruction. Usually, apprenticeship applicants must be at least
18 years old and meet local requirements. The length of the program,
usually 3 to 4 years, varies with the apprentice’s skill. Because
the number of apprenticeship programs is limited, however, only
a small proportion of drywall installers, ceiling tile installers,
and tapers learn their trade through these programs.
Other jobseekers may choose to obtain their classroom training
before seeking a job. There are a number of public and private
vocational-technical schools and training academies affiliated
with the unions and contractors that offer training to become
a drywall installer, ceiling tile installer, and taper. Employers
often look favorably upon these students and usually start them
at a higher level than those without the training.
Installer helpers start by carrying materials, lifting and holding
panels, and cleaning up debris. They also learn to use the tools,
machines, equipment, and materials of the trade. Within a few
weeks, they learn to measure, cut, and install materials. Eventually,
they become fully experienced workers. Tapers learn their job
by taping joints and touching up nail holes, scrapes, and other
imperfections. They soon learn to install corner guards and to
conceal openings around pipes. At the end of their training, drywall
installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers learn to estimate
the cost of installing and finishing drywall.
Training for this profession can begin in a high school, where
classes in English, math, mechanical drawing, blueprint reading,
and general shop are recommended. Some skills needed to become
a drywall installer, ceiling tile installer, and taper include
manual dexterity, eye-hand coordination, good physical fitness,
and a good sense of balance. The ability to solve arithmetic problems
quickly and accurately also is required. In addition, a good work
history or military service is viewed favorably by contractors.
Drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers may advance
to carpentry supervisor or general construction supervisor positions.
Others may become independent contractors. 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 understanding of English;
Spanish-speaking workers make up a large part of the construction
workforce in many areas. Hispanic workers who want to advance
should learn English. Supervisors and contractors need good English
skills in order to deal with clients and subcontractors. They
also should be able to identify and estimate the quantity of materials
needed to complete a job, and accurately estimate how long a job
will take to complete and at what cost.
Drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers held
about 196,000 jobs in 2004. Most worked for contractors specializing
in drywall and ceiling tile installation; others worked for contractors
doing many kinds of construction. About 43,000 were self-employed
Most installers and tapers are employed in populous areas. In
other areas, where there may not be enough work to keep a drywall
or ceiling tile installer employed full time, carpenters and painters
usually do the work.
Job opportunities for drywall installers, ceiling tile installers,
and tapers are expected to be good. Many potential workers are
not attracted to this occupation because they prefer work that
is less strenuous and has more comfortable working conditions.
Experienced workers will have especially favorable opportunities.
Employment is expected to increase more slowly than average for
all occupations over the 2004-14 period reflecting the number
of new construction and remodeling projects. In addition to jobs
involving traditional interior work, drywall workers will find
employment opportunities in the installation of insulated exterior
wall systems, which are becoming increasingly popular.
Besides those resulting from job growth, many jobs will open
up each year because of the need to replace workers who transfer
to other occupations or leave the labor force. Some drywall installers,
ceiling tile installers, and tapers with limited skills leave
the occupation when they find that they dislike the work or fail
to find steady employment.
Despite the growing use of exterior panels, most drywall installation
and finishing is done indoors. Therefore, drywall workers lose
less worktime because of inclement weather than do some other
construction workers. Nevertheless, they may be unemployed between
construction projects and during downturns in construction activity.
In May 2004, the median hourly earnings of drywall and ceiling
tile installers were $16.36. The middle 50 percent earned between
$12.59 and $21.82. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.98,
and the highest 10 percent earned more than $28.30. The median
hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers
of drywall and ceiling tile installers in May 2004 were as follows:
Residential building construction
Building finishing contractors
Nonresidential building construction
In May 2004, the median hourly earnings of tapers were $18.78.
The middle 50 percent earned between $14.07 and $24.43. The lowest
10 percent earned less than $10.66, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $28.79.
Some contractors pay these workers according to the number of
panels they install or finish per day; others pay an hourly rate.
A 40-hour week is standard, but the workweek may sometimes be
longer or shorter. Workers who are paid hourly rates receive premium
pay for overtime. Trainees usually started at about half the rate
paid to experienced workers and received wage increases as they
became more highly skilled.
Drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers combine
strength and dexterity with precision and accuracy to make materials
fit according to a plan. Other occupations that require similar
abilities include carpenters; carpet, floor, and tile installers
and finishers; insulation workers; and plasterers and stucco masons.
Sources of Additional Information
For information about work opportunities in drywall application
and finishing and ceiling tile installation, contact local drywall
installation and ceiling tile installation contractors, a local
joint union-management apprenticeship committee, a State or local
chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, or the nearest
office of the State employment service or apprenticeship agency.
For details about job qualifications and training programs in
drywall application and finishing and ceiling tile installation,
Associated Builders and Contractors, 4250 North Fairfax Dr.,
9th Floor Arlington, VA 22203. Internet: http://www.trytools.org/
National Association of Home Builders, Home Builders Institute,
1201 15th St. NW., Washington, DC 20005. Internet: http://www.hbi.org/
Joint Apprenticeship and Training Fund, International Union
of Painters and Allied Trades, 1750 New York Ave. NW., Washington,
DC 20006. Internet: http://www.jatf.org/
National Center for Construction Education and Research, P.O.
Box 141104, Gainesville, FL 32614-1104. Internet: http://www.nccer.org/
United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Carpenters
Training Fund, 6801 Placid Street, Las Vegas, NV 89119 Internet:
Source: Bureau of
Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition