Painters (Construction and Maintenance)

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Construction and Maintenance Painters Do[About this section] [To Top]

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

Duties of Construction and Maintenance Painters

Painters typically do the following:

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

Applying paint to interior walls makes surfaces attractive and vibrant. In addition, paints and other sealers protect exterior surfaces from damage caused by weather, sunlight, and pollution.

Because there are several ways to apply paint, workers must be able to choose the proper tool for each job, such as the correct roller, power sprayer, or brush. Choosing the right tool typically depends on the surface to be covered and the characteristics of the material applied.

A few painters—mainly industrial—use special safety equipment. For example, painting in confined spaces, such as the inside of a large storage tank, requires workers to wear self-contained suits to avoid inhaling toxic fumes. On some projects they may operate abrasive blasters to remove old coatings, which may require the use of additional clothing and protective eyewear. When painting bridges, ships, tall buildings, or oil rigs, painters may work from scaffolding, bosun’s chairs, and harnesses in order to reach work areas.

The following are examples of types of painters:

Construction painters apply paints, stains, and coatings to interior and exterior walls, new buildings, and other structural surfaces.

Maintenance painters remove old finishes and apply paints, stains, and coatings later in a structure’s life. Some painters specialize in painting or coating industrial structures, such as bridges and oil rigs, to prevent corrosion. These workers are sometimes called industrial painters.

Artisan painters specialize in creating distinct finishes by using one of many decorative techniques. One such technique is adding glaze for increased depth and texture. Other common techniques include sponging, distressing, rag rolling, color blocking, and faux finishing.

Work Environment for Construction and Maintenance Painters[About this section] [To Top]

Painters hold about 360,500 jobs, of which 36 percent are employ in the painting and wall covering contractors industry. About 4 in 10 are self-employed.

Because painters apply finishes to a wide variety of structures—from bridges to the interiors and exteriors of buildings—they typically work both indoors and outdoors.

Painting requires a lot of climbing, bending, kneeling, and reaching. 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 have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Falls from ladders, muscle strains from lifting, and exposure to irritants such as drywall dust are common risks. Maintenance painters who apply industrial coatings may have to go through additional safety training because of concerns related to falls.

Construction and Maintenance Painter Work Schedules

Most painters work full time. About 4 in 10 are self-employed. Self-employed workers may be able to set their own schedule.

How to Become a Construction or Maintenance Painter[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Construction and Maintenance Painters near you!

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

Construction and Maintenance Painter Education

There are no specific education requirements to become a painter, but high school courses in mathematics, shop, and blueprint reading can be useful. Also, some 2-year technical schools offer courses through apprenticeships affiliated with union and contractor organizations. Credits earned as part of an apprenticeship program usually count toward an associate’s degree.

Construction and Maintenance Painter Training

Most painters learn their trade on the job. They typically begin by doing simple tasks, such as helping carry materials and laying drop cloths, and then move on to more complicated tasks, such as priming surfaces to be finished.

Some painters learn their trade through a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship, although a few local unions have additional time requirements. For each year of the typical program, apprentices must have at least 144 hours of technical instruction and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. Through technical instruction, apprentices learn how to: use and care for tools and equipment, prepare surfaces, mix and match paint, and read blueprints. In addition, they may learn about application techniques, the characteristics of different finishes, including wood finishing, and safety practices.

After completing an apprenticeship program, painters are considered journey workers and may perform tasks on their own.

Unions and contractors sponsor apprenticeship programs. Some apprenticeship programs have preferred entry for veterans. The basic qualifications to enter an apprenticeship program are as follows:

  • Minimum age of 18
  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Physically able to do the work

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. The National Association of Home Builders through the Home Builders Institute offer Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate Training (PACT), which covers information for eight construction trades, including painting.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

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

Important Qualities for Construction and Maintenance Painters

Color vision. Painters must be able to identify and differentiate between subtle changes in color.

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 help 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 while climbing ladders.

Physical strength. Painters must lift and move numerous items during the course of a job. For example, a 5-gallon bucket of paint weighs over 40 pounds.

Construction and Maintenance Painter Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for painters, construction and maintenance is $36,580. 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 $23,900, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $63,170.

The starting pay for apprentices is usually between 40 percent and 70 percent of what fully trained painters make. Apprentices receive pay increases as they learn to do more.

Workers who specialize in painting structures, such as bridges, tend to have higher wages.

Most painters work full time. About 4 in 10 are self-employed. Self-employed workers may be able to set their own schedule.

Job Outlook for Construction and Maintenance Painters[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of painters is projected to grow 7 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

The relatively short life of paint on homes, as well as changing trends in color and application, will continue to result in demand for painters. Investors who sell properties or rent them out also will require painters’ services. Nonetheless, the ability of many homeowners to do the work themselves will temper employment growth somewhat.

Growing demand for industrial painting will be driven by the need to prevent the corrosion and deterioration of many industrial structures by painting or coating them. Applying a protective coating to the inside and outside of a steel tank, for example, can add years to its life expectancy.

Construction and Maintenance 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 with limited abilities work as painters for a relatively short time and then move on to other types of work with higher pay or better working conditions.

Job opportunities for industrial painters should be excellent because the number of positions available should be greater than the pool of individuals qualified to fill them. Although industrial structures that require painting are located throughout the nation, the best employment opportunities will likely be in the Gulf Coast region, where strong demand exists. In addition, workers with military experience are viewed favorably during initial hiring.

New painters and those with limited experience should expect some periods of unemployment. In addition, most new construction painting projects last only a short time.

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, peak periods of building activity may produce shortages of painters.

Employment projections data for Construction and Maintenance Painters, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Painters, construction and maintenance 360,500 387,100 7 26,500


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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