Painters apply paint, stain, and coatings to walls and ceilings, buildings, bridges, and other structures.

Duties

Painters typically do the following:

  • Cover floors, furniture, and trim with drop cloths, tarps, and masking tape to protect surfaces
  • Remove and replace pictures and outlet and switch covers
  • Install scaffolding and raise ladders
  • Fill holes and cracks with putty or plaster
  • Prepare surfaces by scraping, wire brushing, or sanding to a smooth finish
  • Calculate the size of the area to be painted and the amount of paint needed for the area
  • Apply primers or sealers so the paint will stick to the surface
  • Apply paint or other finishes, using hand brushes, rollers, or sprayers

Paints and other sealers protect surfaces from damage caused by weather, sunlight, and pollution.

There are several ways to apply paint to a surface, and painters must choose the correct tool for each job, such as a roller, power sprayer, or brush. Choosing the right tool typically depends on the type of surface to be painted and the characteristics of the paint to be used. Some employers require painters to provide their own equipment.

Painters may wear special safety equipment for a job. For example, painters working in confined spaces, such as the inside of a large storage tank, must wear self-contained suits to avoid inhaling toxic fumes. Some painters wear additional clothing and protective eyewear when operating abrasive blasters to remove old coatings. When painting bridges, ships, tall buildings, or oil rigs, painters may work from scaffolding or harnesses.

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Work Environment

Painters, construction and maintenance held about 375,600 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of painters, construction and maintenance were as follows:

Painting and wall covering contractors                      39%
Self-employed workers 38
Residential building construction 5
Government 2
Nonresidential building construction 2

Painters work on a variety of structures, from bridges to the interiors and exteriors of buildings, and they typically work both indoors and outdoors. Painting requires a lot of bending, kneeling, reaching, and climbing. Those who paint bridges or buildings may be exposed to extreme heights and uncomfortable positions; some painters are suspended by ropes or cables as they work.

Injuries and Illnesses

Painters risk injury on the job. Falls from ladders, muscle strains from lifting, and exposure to irritants such as drywall dust are common workplace hazards.

Work Schedules

Most painters work full time. Self-employed workers may be able to set their own schedules.

Education and Training

Most painters learn their trade on the job. No formal education is typically required to enter the occupation.

Education

There are no formal education requirements to become a painter, although some technical schools offer certificates in painting and some workers learn to paint in apprenticeship programs.

Training

Most painters learn their trade on the job. They learn how to prepare surfaces, apply coating, hang wall covering, and match colors. Painters may have to complete additional safety training in order to work with scaffolding and harnesses.

Although less common, workers who have a high school diploma or equivalent and who are at least 18 years old can become painters through a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship. For each year of a typical program, apprentices complete at least 144 hours of technical instruction and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training before becoming journey workers. Some apprenticeship programs give preference to veterans.

Although the vast majority of workers learn their trade on the job or through an apprenticeship, some contractors offer their own training program for new workers.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Those interested in industrial painting can earn several certifications from NACE International Institute or from the Society for Protective Coatings. Courses range from 1 day to several weeks, depending on the certification program and specialty. Applicants also must meet work experience requirements.

The National Association of Home Builders, through the Home Builders Institute, offers Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate Training (PACT), which provides entry-level training for painting and other construction occupations.

Personality and Interests

Painters typically have an interest in the Building and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a painter, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Painters should also possess the following specific qualities:

Color vision. Painters must be able to identify and differentiate between subtle differences in color of paints.

Customer-service skills. Workers who paint the inside and outside of residential homes often interact with clients. They must communicate with the client, listen to what the client wants, and select colors and application techniques that satisfy the client.

Detail oriented. Painters must be precise when creating or painting edges, because minor flaws can be noticeable.

Physical stamina. Painters should be able to stay physically active for many hours, because they spend most of the day standing with their arms extended.

Pay

The median annual wage for painters, construction and maintenance was $40,280 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,130, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $67,560.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for painters, construction and maintenance in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government $56,090
Nonresidential building construction 44,130
Residential building construction 39,780
Painting and wall covering contractors                            39,150

Apprentices make less than fully trained painters, but they receive increases as they learn to do more.

Most painters work full time. Self-employed workers may be able to set their own schedule.

Job Outlook

Employment of painters is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

The expected increase in new construction activity will continue to necessitate a need for painters. Investors who sell or lease properties also will require painters’ services. However, many homeowners choose to paint themselves, which will temper the employment growth of painters.

Job Prospects

Overall job prospects should be good because of the need to replace workers who leave the occupation each year. There are no formal education requirements for entry into this job, so many people work as painters for a relatively short time and then move on to other types of work with higher pay or better working conditions.

Employment of painters, like that of many other construction workers, is sensitive to fluctuations in the economy. On the one hand, painters may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand, during peak periods of building activity there may be shortages of painters.

For More Information

Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship program online or by phone at 877-872-5627. For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities for painters, contact the offices of the state employment service, the state apprenticeship agency, local contractors, or firms that employ painters.

For more information about painters and training opportunities, visit

Associated Builders and Contractors

International Union of Painters and Allied Trades

Home Builders Institute

NCCER

Painting and Decorating Contractors of America

For more information about the work of industrial painters and about opportunities for training and certification as a protective coating specialist, visit

NACE International Institute

Society of Protective Coatings

 

FAQ

Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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I am not sure if this career is right for me. How can I decide?

There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. On this site, you can take the Career Personality Profiler assessment, the Holland Code assessment, or the Photo Career Quiz.

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