Painter and Decorator

The Job and What's Involved

Painters and decorators use a wide range of paints, varnishes, wallpapers and other coverings to protect surfaces such as plaster, metal or wood, and to produce an attractive finish. They work inside and outside buildings and structures such as:

  • Private homes.
  • Offices, shops and factories.
  • Hospitals and schools.
  • Bridges, ships and oil rigs.
  • Old buildings such as stately homes (using traditional materials and specialist techniques such as gold leaf work).

The work varies according to experience and the surfaces to be covered, but can include:

  • Discussing the client's requirements and recommending the best type of covering to use - for example, special types of paint designed to protect surfaces against water or steam.
  • Showing the client samples of paint, varnish or wallpaper and helping them to decide between them.
  • Estimating how much paint and other materials will be needed to complete the job.
  • Working out how long the job will take and estimating a cost for the client.
  • Moving and/or covering and protecting furniture, carpets and office equipment in areas to be painted.
  • Preparing surfaces by removing old paint or wall coverings (using tools like blow torches and steamers), filling any holes or cracks and sanding them to produce a smooth surface.
  • Applying appropriate undercoats, primers, sealers or lining papers.
  • Using a range of tools such as brushes, rollers, sprays and sponges to apply paint.
  • Measuring, cutting, pasting, applying and trimming wallpapers, using a plumb line to make sure that the paper is straight and a large brush to remove air bubbles.
  • Using stencils and borders to produce decorative finishes.
  • Clearing up when the job is complete and disposing of, or storing, leftover materials safely.

Industrial painters work on steel and concrete structures such as refineries and bridges. They blast structures with abrasive materials before applying paint, usually by spraying.

Painters and decorators usually work 37.5 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Some jobs, particularly those in offices, shops and factories, may need to be done overnight or at weekends to cause as little disruption as possible to the client's business. Overtime may be required to complete jobs on time. Some contracts involve staying away from home for long or short periods.

The work can be done indoors or outdoors, although painters and decorators do not usually work outside in bad weather conditions. It involves working at heights, using ladders or scaffolding, bending, kneeling and crouching (sometimes in confined areas), standing for long periods, and carrying ladders, tools and materials, which can be heavy.

On some jobs, mobile elevated working platforms (MEWPS), often known as cherry pickers, are used instead of ladders. Paints and varnishes can produce unpleasant fumes, and some tasks, such as sanding, can create a lot of dust, so protective masks may be worn.

Painters and decorators usually wear overalls and may also wear hard hats, safety boots and safety harnesses, depending on the job they are doing. They can work alone, but on larger projects they are usually part of a team.

A driving licence may be useful for transporting materials and equipment from site to site. Self-employed painters and decorators need the use of a van.

Starting salaries may be between £12,000 and £14,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are opportunities for painters and decorators all over the UK. Employers range from small businesses, employing one or two people, to large organisations. Typical employers are painting and decorating companies and building contractors. Some large employers with a lot of property to maintain, such as local authorities, employ their own teams of painters and decorators. Some experienced painters and decorators become self-employed.

Vacancies are advertised in Connexions centres, Jobcentre Plus offices, and local newspapers.

Education and Training

There are no minimum qualifications to begin training as a painter and decorator, but employers may prefer candidates with some GCSE's/S grades (A-E/1-5), or equivalent. Maths skills are important as painters and decorators need to be able to calculate areas and quantities. English and design and technology are also useful.

Some schools in England and Wales offer the Foundation Certificate in Building and Craft Occupations (FCinBCO). Students acquire basic skills in a range of construction activities, as well as spending some time on site visits.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training combines on-the-job training with college courses, and trainees work towards qualifications such as CITB/City & Guilds in Decorative Finishing and Industrial Painting Occupations which is available at Levels 1-3. In Scotland, SVQ's in Construction: Painting and Decorating are available at Levels 2 and 3.

Apprentices who cannot get the workplace experience they need for an NVQ/SVQ can study full or part time for a Construction Award. They are available at foundation, intermediate and advanced levels and are assessed entirely on college work. Construction Awards are not available in Scotland.

Under a new scheme, painters and decorators are encouraged to apply for a card which proves their skills and qualifications. Many employers already require employees to hold a card, and by 2010 anyone working on a construction site must be a card holder. There are a number of card schemes, but they all require applicants to have a relevant NVQ/SVQ qualification and to pass a health and safety test. For more information on cards, contact CITB-ConstructionSkills or visit

Painters who are interested in restoration and heritage work can train in specialist skills like graining, marbling and gold leaf work.

Featured Job Guide - Laboratory Technician

Laboratory Technician

Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.

They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.


Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A painter and decorator should:

  • Be good with their hands.
  • Be fit, as the work is physically demanding.
  • Be confident working at heights.
  • Be able to understand and follow health and safety regulations.
  • Understand the properties of different paints and other coverings, and the different techniques needed to apply them.
  • Keep up to date with new fashions, products and techniques.
  • Be able to work carefully and methodically.
  • Be able to work to deadlines.
  • Be able to pay close attention to detail.
  • Be able to work alone or in a team.
  • Be pleasant when working in people's homes or offices.
  • Be tactful when advising clients.
  • Have business skills if aiming to become self-employed.

Your Long Term Prospects

In large companies, there may be opportunities for experienced painters and decorators to become team leaders or supervisors. With an appropriate teaching qualification it may be possible to teach college courses in painting and decorating.

Some experienced painters and decorators become self-employed and set up their own painting and decorating businesses.

There may be opportunities to work abroad with firms working on overseas contracts.

Get Further Information

Bircham Newton Training Centre,
Bircham Newton, King's Lynn,
Norfolk PE31 6RH
Tel: 01485 577577

Other Related Jobs

Additional resources