Painting & Decorating

If you enjoy a bit of DIY, you may have considered turning your hobby into a source of income. Painting and decorating is a popular choice as a second career, and you could do a lot worse than get a trade under your belt.

Do you like the satisfaction of seeing a job well done? Are you happy working independently? Do you have good attention to detail? Are you attracted to the prospect of rarely working in the same place from one week to the next?

Painting and decorating is about more than just papering walls. This is a skilled profession that gives practitioners the opportunity to work in a wide variety of settings. From offices and houses to bridges and oil rigs, the variety of properties and structures that need painting or decorating is wide. And if you like the idea of knuckling down to a day’s work without a boss breathing down your neck, the independence offered by many jobs in this sector can be a major bonus.

Of course, the precise nature of your job will depend on the type of employer you work for or, indeed, whether you choose to work for yourself. According to David Powis of the Painting and Decorating Association (PDA), around 800 of his organisation’s 2,500 members are sole traders – self-employed decorators who run their own businesses. A large number of the others are small businesses employing two to five people. The larger-scale jobs – painting factories, bridges, aeroplanes, hospitals, etc – tend to be handled by larger contractors employing as many as 600 or 700 people. Some local authorities, hospitals and other large developments also have their own in-house maintenance teams.

Accurate colour vision, a steady hand and an ability to work at height are all important if you want to pursue a career as a decorator. You’ll also need to have good attention to detail and sound numeracy skills in order to measure up areas and calculate how much paint or paper you’ll need for particular jobs.

If you’re scared of heights then painting and decorating really isn’t the job for you, and some people don’t like working with chemicals either. But David Powis suggests that most people who enter the profession as an adult will already have a feel for the job and whether it’s right for them: “They know themselves if they do home decorating whether they like working with paints and varnishes. Some people get on with it; others can’t stand it,” he says.

As a painter and decorator, you should be prepared to work independently and on your own for long stretches of time (particularly if you’re self-employed) but if you work for a large contractor, you’ll also be expected to work as part of a team – and that’s where your military experience will come in useful. But teamworking abilities are not the only skills that you’ll bring from the Forces into a career as a painter and decorator. Barry Punter is section leader for painting and decorating and plastering at City College in Plymouth. He has taught several ex-Forces painting and decorating students over the past few years and believes that the self-discipline and good presentation of former military personnel can be a genuine asset: “When you’re working in private houses, there’s a dress code and you’ve got to watch your Ps and Qs. You’ve also got to be punctual and trustworthy.”

It’s possible to set up your own business as a painter or decorator with relatively little experience, and various providers offer short courses, some of which cover basic business skills as well as practical techniques. However, the PDA recommends that anyone seeking a career in decorating should undertake in-depth training, ideally attaining a National/Scottish Vocational Qualification (N/SVQ) at Level 2 or preferably Level 3 – or the equivalent.

For younger entrants (aged under 25) the recommended training route is an apprenticeship, which gives them the opportunity to complete vocational training on the job leading to an N/SVQ, usually over a period of three to four years. The apprenticeship will teach them to use tools like blow torches and steamers to remove old paint or wall coverings; fill holes and cracks; apply paint with brushes, rollers and spray equipment; and measure, cut and apply wallpaper. Apprentices spend part of their time at college on day release and the rest of their week doing paid work for an employer; their training is funded by the Learning and SkillsCouncil in England and the equivalent body elsewhere in the UK.

The apprenticeship scheme is aimed specifically at young people and, if you wanted to follow a similar route over the age of 25, you’d probably need to fund the college training yourself and find an employer willing to take you on in order to complete the on-the-job training required. But you can reach the standard of an N/SVQ through other courses which are purely college-based. At City College Plymouth’s Camels Head Training Centre, for example, courses are offered from a basic level upwards. For beginners, they run a Foundation Construction Award which covers storing materials and equipment, getting work areas ready for operations, preparing surfaces for decorating, applying paint materials by brush and roller, and wallpapering. The Foundation can then be followed by Intermediate and Advanced Construction Awards, both of which are assessed solely on college work and provide certification for people who are not (yet) working in the industry.

City College’s Barry Punter thoroughly recommends that people leaving the Forces should sample the career they want to follow early in the resettlement process. “I’m quite happy for people to come along, have a pleasant chat with me and talk about their experience, or to spend one or two days seeing what we do,” he says. “We’d do the same for our plastering course.”

The job of a painter and decorator could see you working inside or out, on your own or in a team, and using a wide range of materials. As well as the obvious aspects to the job – preparing surfaces, applying paint and paper, etc – you will also be expected to liaise with clients and offer advice, estimate the costs of jobs, and clear up when it’s all over! You will probably work around a 39-hour week, but may also have to put in overtime when a job needs to be completed to deadline.

According to Learn Direct, painters and decorators at the start of their careers can expect to earn between £13,500 and £15,500, while the average decorator earns £16,000 to £20,000 and those with supervisory duties or specialist skills can earn £21,000 or more. As a self-employed decorator, the amount you earn will obviously depend upon the hours you work, and you’ll also need to develop basic business skills – learning how to market the business and manage your books – plus you’ll have to arrange adequate insurance. But there can be many advantages to being self-employed, particularly if you enjoy your independence, and you will also be able to work for larger contractors on a sub-contract basis.

Whether you work for yourself or for an employer, painting and decorating gives you the opportunity to get out and about and meet different clients from week to week, and that can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of this profession. Sometimes you’ll have to work away from home for periods of time, and you may even have the opportunity to spend time abroad, as David Powis explains: “If you work for a wealthy client who’s got a villa in Spain but doesn’t want to have Spanish workmen there, he’ll fly a decorator over to do the job for him.” And the variety doesn’t stop there: “if you’re working for very well-to-do clients, you can have the opportunity to undertake very interesting work involving decorative techniques, gilding and restoration. There’s a lot more to it than just putting up paint and paper. If you’re working on a heritage property, there’s a lot of technical knowledge you need to absorb and a lot of satisfaction at the end of it as well.” City College Plymouth’s Barry Punter spent 26 years as a painter and decorator; for him one of the most exciting aspects of the job was celebrity clients, but he was lucky – that’s certainly not a guaranteed part of the job!

From houses to hospitals and from stately homes to schools – painters and decorators work everywhere. So if you enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a job well done and have good practical skills, you could find yourself up a ladder with a pot of paint in the not too distant future.


01485 577577

Painting and Decorating Association
024 7635 3776

Scottish Decorators Federation
0131 343 3300

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