Painter and Paperhanger

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Painter and Paperhanger

Education and Training: On-the-job training or apprenticeship

Salary: Median—$14.55 per hour

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Painters and paperhangers apply finishes to walls, ceilings, and other surfaces. Although painting and paperhanging are two separate trades, many workers have mastered both. Painters apply paint, varnish, and other finishes with brushes, rollers, and spray machines. These finishes decorate and protect surfaces both inside and out. Paperhangers apply wallpaper, vinyl, and fabric coverings to preserve and decorate the indoor surfaces of older buildings as well as those under construction.

Painters and paperhangers put the finishing touches on new homes and buildings. Painting and paperhanging must be done after most other work has been completed. Painters and paperhangers also work on old buildings and homes. They give homes a new look by hanging paper or putting fresh coats of paint on inside walls. Many painters also repaint the outsides of homes and other buildings to add color and protect them from weathering and dirt.

Before painters and paperhangers put on the paint or paper, they clean the dirt, oil, and grease from the surfaces to be covered. Old paint and wall covering must be removed; they are heated or wetted down and then scraped off. Cracks and holes made by nails are filled and smoothed over. This process is called spackling.

Painters must apply the paint quickly and smoothly. They must know what materials were used to make the paint. Different materials, such as plaster, wood, brick, and metal, require different paints. A painter must have a good eye for color to mix and match paints.

Paperhangers first apply sizing, which is a mixture that makes the surface less porous and makes the paper stick well. They measure the surface and cut the paper to fit. Then they mix the adhesive used to glue the paper to the wall. They brush the adhesive on the back of the paper strip and press the strip on the wall. They pay careful attention to match the pattern from strip to strip. When the paper is placed on the wall, the paperhangers cut the edges at the ceiling and baseboards. They smooth out any air bubbles or creases by pushing them toward the corners with a straightedge. Tools used by painters and paperhangers include brushes, spray guns, rollers, putty knives, scissors, and rulers.

Education and Training Requirements

A high school diploma is preferred but not required. Mathematics courses are important, as are language skills, because painters and paperhangers must be able to communicate with their clients and subcontractors. Many painters and paperhangers learn their trade while working as helpers for experienced workers. In paperhanging, more than in any other construction field, it is easy for a helper to gain recognition as a qualified craft worker.

Another way to enter the field is by participating in a three- or four-year apprenticeship program. Some programs offer training in both painting and paper-hanging. Others train for only one trade. Apprenticeship programs, where available, are directed by joint union-management committees. They combine on-the-job training with at least 144 hours of related classroom instruction per year. To become apprentices, trainees must usually be at least eighteen years old and be able to work well with their hands. An ability to judge colors is important. During the apprenticeship, trainees learn which colors go well together and how to mix paints. They learn different application techniques and how to care for their tools. They are also taught how to figure out how much a job will cost before they begin to work. Figuring the cost is important because they or their employers must know if the job is worth doing. Some technical and vocational schools also have programs that provide training for painters and paper-hangers.

Getting the Job

The best way to enter these crafts is through an apprenticeship program. It is also possible to start as a helper for a local contractor. The Yellow Pages and newspaper classified ads are good sources of job opportunities.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Fully qualified painters and paperhangers are already at the top of their craft. However, experienced painters and paperhangers can become supervisors. They can also become job estimators or superintendents. Many painters and paper-hangers open their own businesses as painters or decorating contractors.

About 486,000 people are employed as painters and paperhangers in the United States. The number of painters is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all jobs through the year 2014. The number of paperhangers is expected to grow at a slower pace. Employment in the industry varies with the general economy, the level of new building construction, the need for maintenance, and color trends. Despite advances in technology in many parts of the construction industry, most painting and paperhanging must be done by hand, so there will always be a need for these workers. Many openings will result from the departure of workers who retire or leave the field.

Working Conditions

Painters and paperhangers usually work forty hours a week, although many work part time. They earn higher wages for overtime work. Paperhangers work indoors, so the weather has little effect on their work; painters, however, work both indoors and outdoors, so some of their work time may be lost to bad weather. Painters and paperhangers often work in crews or with helpers, so they must be able to work well with other people.

Painters and paperhangers often come into contact with fumes from paint, adhesives, and other materials used in their trade. Sometimes they must wear protective gear to remove hazardous materials, such as lead paint, from surfaces. They must be physically strong, because their work calls for their arms to be raised overhead for extended periods of time. The job often requires them to work on ladders and scaffolds, including "swing stages," which hang on ropes or cables from the roofs of buildings.

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings vary widely, depending on geography. The median wage for painters in 2004 was $14.55 per hour. The median wage for paperhangers was $15.73 per hour. There are many more painters than paperhangers. Nearly half of all workers in these trades are self-employed. Some of them belong to labor unions.

Where to Go for More Information

International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades
1750 New York Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 637-0700

National Association of Women in Construction
327 S. Adams St.
Fort Worth, TX 76104-1002
(800) 552-3506

United States Department of Labor
Office of Apprenticeship Training, Employer and Labor Services
200 Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20210
(202) 693-3813

Apprentices begin at forty to fifty percent of the qualified craft worker's wage and receive periodic increases as they progress through their training. Union members generally receive paid holidays, life insurance, and 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.