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Painter and Decorator

Source of Information: Next Step / DirectGov / Careers Advice Service

Painter and Decorator

The Work

Painters and decorators work on projects ranging from re-decorating homes, to applying heavy-duty finishes to large structures like bridges.

As a painter and decorator on a domestic job, you would use paint, varnishes and wallpaper to decorate rooms. You would follow the householder's instructions about choice of colour, finishing texture and wallpaper patterns. Your main tasks would include:

  • measuring surface areas to work out how much paint or wall covering you need
  • stripping off old wallpaper or paint
  • filling holes and cracks and levelling surfaces
  • preparing surfaces with primer and undercoat
  • mixing paint to the right shade, by hand or by using computerised colour-matching equipment
  • applying layers of paint and hanging wallpaper
  • tidying up after finishing a job.

You might apply specialist finishes such as rag-rolling, graining and marbling on some jobs.

For industrial contracts, such as bridges or ships, you would remove old paintwork with abrasive blasting methods before applying new coatings with industrial paint spraying equipment.

Hours and Environment

You would work around 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Extra hours may be necessary to meet deadlines. You would be expected to travel from site to site and some jobs may require overnight stays away from home.

On house painting jobs, you would often work from ladders or raised platforms to reach ceilings. With large industrial structures, you would use a cradle or safety harness. Paints and solvents give off fumes, so you may have to wear a protective mask or use fume extraction equipment on some jobs, if in enclosed spaces.

Skills and Interests

  • good practical and creative skills
  • the ability to work carefully and pay attention to detail
  • the ability to work alone and as part of a team
  • a good head for heights and sense of balance
  • an awareness of health and safety issues.


Employers tend to want people with relevant experience, so you could start off by looking for work as a painter and decorator's labourer or 'mate'. Once you are working, your employer may give you further training in painting and decorating (see the training and development section for more details).

Alternatively, you could take a college course, which would give you some of the skills needed for the job. Relevant courses include:

  • City & Guilds (6217) Level 1 Certificate in Basic Construction Skills (Painting and Decorating)
  • CSkills Level 1 Diploma in Painting and Decorating
  • CSkills Intermediate and Advanced Construction Award (Decorative Occupations Painting and Decorating).

For more details about courses and entry requirements, contact your local colleges.

A common way into this career is through an Apprenticeship scheme. The range of Apprenticeships available in your area will depend on the local jobs market and the types of skills employers need from their workers. For more information on Apprenticeships, visit

To get on to an Apprenticeship, you may need GCSEs in subjects such as maths, English and design and technology, or equivalent qualifications, such as the BTEC Introductory Certificate and Diploma in Construction. This course includes options in painting and decorating.

For more information about careers and qualifications, contact ConstructionSkills. The Know Your Place campaign aims to promote the construction trades as a career choice for women.


Once you are working, you could take an NVQ in Decorative Finishing and Industrial Painting Occupations. This is split into two main areas:

  • painting and decorating brush and roller techniques for interiors and exteriors, fitting and hanging wall coverings, specialised finishes, and installing coving and centre pieces
  • industrial painting preparing work areas using special treatments and abrasive blasting, applying industrial finishes and paint spraying methods.

Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS)
Many building contractors now insist that you have a CSCS card to work on their sites. The card is proof of your skills and competence. To get your card you must:

  • pass a health and safety assessment
  • have an NVQ or equivalent qualification.

If you are working without qualifications, you may be able to use On-Site Assessment and Training (OSAT) or Experienced Worker Practical Assessment (EWPA) to get your NVQ and card. Contact CSCS for further details.

Traditional Building Skills Bursary Scheme
The Traditional Building Skills Bursary scheme aims to address skills shortages within the traditional crafts and built heritage sector, by offering bursaries and organising work-based training placements for eligible applicants.

To find out more about the scheme, eligibility and what placements are available, visit the Traditional Building Skills Bursary Scheme website.


You could find work with building and specialist painting contractors, local authorities and the NHS. Some companies may specialise in particular techniques like heavy industrial painting.

With experience, you could progress to supervisory roles or move into related areas such as estimating and contract management. You could also take further training to specialise in restoration work. A popular option is to set up your own business and work on a sub-contract basis.

You may find work through the local press and Jobcentre Plus offices. The following may also be useful for vacancies and general reading: (links open in new window)

bConstructive (list of building firms)
Construction Jobs Network
Directgov (Jobseekers page)

We do not accept responsibility for the content of external sites.

Annual Income

  • Starting salaries can be between 13,500 and 16,500 a year.
  • Average salaries for qualified workers are between 17,000 and 21,500 a year.
  • Decorators with supervisory duties or specialist skills can earn over 23,000 a year.

Overtime and shift allowances can increase income. Self-employed painters and decorators set their own pay rates.

Figures are intended as a guideline only.

Further information

If you would like to discuss your career options with a learning advisor at the Careers Advice Service advice line, call 0800 100 900 or use our online enquiry form.



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