Education and Training: On-the-job training or apprenticeship
Salary: Average—$16.36 per hour
Employment Outlook: Poor
Definition and Nature of the Work
Lathers install the metal lath and gypsum lath boards that support the plaster, concrete, and stucco coatings used in construction. Lath is applied to the framework of ceilings and walls. It is also used as a basic frame for the construction of arches and cornices. Metal lath is composed of either wire mesh or strips of expanded metal. When the plaster is mixed properly and to the right consistency, it sticks to the lath. To install metal lath, the lathers first build a metal framework, which they attach to the structure of the building. The framework is called furring. They then attach the lath to the furring with nails, wire, clips, or machine stapling. After the lathers have finished attaching the lath, they cut holes for the electrical outlets, switches, and plumbing.
Sheets of gypsum board are applied in a similar way. Lathers put this kind of lath up so that it covers the framework of thin wood slats called studs. To cut the board to the proper size, lathers cut lines on one side of the gypsum lath with a lath hatchet. Then they break it along these lines with sharp blows to the other side. They cut openings for electrical outlets and switches and then attach the lath to the wall. Lathers use such tools as drills, shears, hammers, hacksaws, hatchets, wire cutters, and power fastening devices.
Education and Training Requirements
Many lathers gain their knowledge and skill by working as helpers, learning by watching experienced workers. Another way to learn the craft is to complete a two-year union-sponsored apprenticeship program. High school graduates are preferred. To become an apprentice, you must be at least sixteen years of age. Those who apply must pass tests of manual dexterity before they can be accepted.
Tests are given to apprentices every six months to check their progress. On the job, apprentices work with skilled lathers and are taught to use the tools and materials. In the classroom, the apprentices learn welding, applied mathematics, and geometry. They are also taught how to estimate costs and how to read sketches and blueprints. Some classroom time is devoted to safety practices.
Getting the Job
The best way to enter the lathing profession is to contact a local union or contractor for information about the apprenticeship program. A local lather or contractor may hire a beginner for work as a helper.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Lathers are already at the top of their craft. However, experienced lathers can become supervisors at the job site. Others supervise all lathing work for a general contractor. Some lathers own their own contracting businesses.
Employment is projected to grow more slowly than average through the year 2014, but thousands of job opportunities should still be available annually because of a high turnover rate in the profession. It is expected that there will be more openings in commercial than in residential construction.
Lathers generally work forty hours per week. They earn extra wages for overtime work. Because lathers usually work indoors, they seldom lose work time because of bad weather. Lathers may stand, squat, and stoop for long periods. When working on ceilings and other elevated areas, lathers stand on ladders and scaffoldings. Many lathers are unionized.
Earnings and Benefits
The median wage for lathers in 2004 was $16.36 per hour. Experienced workers, employed in large urban areas, can earn much more. Apprentice lathers start out at fifty percent of the qualified craft worker's wage and earn more as training progresses.
Where to Go for More Information
International Institute for Lath and Plaster
P.O. Box 1663
Lafayette, CA 94549
United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America
50 F St. NW, R3012
Washington, DC 20001
Union workers generally receive paid vacations and life insurance, as well as hospitalization and pension plans. The number of vacation days they receive depends on the number of days they work each year. Other benefits are negotiated separately for each union contract.