Drywall Workers and Lathers Career Information
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Significant Points· Most workers learn the trade on the job,
either by working as helpers or through a formal apprenticeship.
· Job prospects are expected to be excellent.
· Inclement weather seldom interrupts work, but workers may be idled when downturns in the economy slow new construction activity.
Nature of the WorkDrywall consists of a
thin layer of gypsum between two layers of heavy paper. It is used for walls
and ceilings in most buildings today because it is both faster and cheaper to
install than plaster.
There are two kinds of drywall workers—installers and tapers—although many workers do both types of work. Installers, also called applicators, fasten drywall panels to the inside framework of residential houses and other buildings. Tapers, or finishers, prepare these panels for painting by taping and finishing joints and imperfections.
Because drywall panels are manufactured in standard sizes—usually 4 feet by 8 or 12 feet—drywall installers must measure, cut, and fit some pieces around doors and windows. They also saw or cut holes in panels for electrical outlets, air-conditioning units, and plumbing. After making these alterations, installers may glue, nail, or screw the wallboard panels to the wood or metal framework. Because drywall is heavy and cumbersome, a helper generally assists the installer in positioning and securing the panel. A lift often is used when placing ceiling panels.
After the drywall is installed, tapers fill joints between panels with a joint compound. Using the wide, flat tip of a special trowel, they spread the compound into and along each side of the joint with brush-like strokes. They immediately use the trowel to press a paper tape—used to reinforce the drywall and to hide imperfections—into the wet compound and to smooth away excess material. Nail and screw depressions also are covered with this compound, as are imperfections caused by the installation of air-conditioning vents and other fixtures. On large commercial projects, finishers may use automatic taping tools that apply the joint compound and tape in one step. Tapers apply second and third coats of the compound, sanding the treated areas after each coat to make them as smooth as the rest of the wall surface. This results in a very smooth and almost perfect surface. Some tapers apply textured surfaces to walls and ceilings with trowels, brushes, or spray guns.
Ceiling tile installers, or acoustical carpenters, apply or mount acoustical tiles or blocks, strips, or sheets of shock-absorbing materials to ceilings and walls of buildings to reduce reflection of sound or to decorate rooms. First, they measure and mark the surface according to blueprints and drawings. Then, they nail or screw moldings to the wall to support and seal the joint between the ceiling tile and the wall. Finally, they mount the tile, either by applying a cement adhesive to the back of the tile and then pressing the tile into place or by nailing, screwing, stapling, or wire-tying the lath directly to the structural framework.
Also included in this occupation are lathers. Lathers fasten metal or rockboard lath to walls, ceilings, and partitions of buildings. Lath forms the support base for plaster, fireproofing, or acoustical materials. At one time, lath was made of wooden strips. Now, lathers work mostly with wire, metal mesh, or rockboard lath. Metal lath is used where the plaster application will be exposed to weather or water or for curved or irregular surfaces for which drywall is not a practical material. Using hand tools and portable power tools, lathers nail, screw, staple, or wire-tie the lath directly to the structural framework.
Working ConditionsAs in many other construction
trades, this work sometimes is strenuous. Drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers
spend most of the day on their feet, either standing, bending, or kneeling.
Some tapers use stilts to tape and finish ceiling and angle joints. Installers
have to lift and maneuver heavy panels. Hazards include falls from ladders and
scaffolds and injuries from power tools and from working with sharp materials.
Because sanding a joint compound to a smooth finish creates a great deal of
dust, some finishers wear masks for protection.
EmploymentDrywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers held about 188,000 jobs in 2009. Most worked for contractors specializing in drywall and ceiling tile installation; others worked for contractors doing many kinds of construction. About 38,000 were self-employed independent contractors.
Most installers and tapers are employed in populous areas. In other areas, where there may not be enough work to keep a drywall or a ceiling tile installer employed full time, carpenters and painters usually do the work.
Training, Qualifications, Adv.Most drywall installers,
ceiling tile installers, and tapers start as helpers and learn their skills
on the job. Installer helpers start by carrying materials, lifting and holding
panels, and cleaning up debris. Within a few weeks, they learn to measure, cut, and install materials.
Eventually, they become fully experienced workers. Taper apprentices begin by
taping joints and touching up nail holes, scrapes, and other imperfections.
They soon learn to install corner guards and to conceal openings around pipes.
At the end of their training, drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and
tapers learn to estimate the cost of installing and finishing drywall.
Some drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers learn their trade in an apprenticeship program. The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, in cooperation with local contractors, administers an apprenticeship program in both drywall installation and finishing and acoustical carpentry. Apprenticeship programs consist of at least 3 years, or 6,000 hours, of on-the-job training and 144 hours a year of related classroom instruction. In addition, local affiliates of the Associated Builders and Contractors and the National Association of Home Builders conduct training programs for nonunion workers. The International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades conducts an apprenticeship program in drywall finishing that lasts 2 to 3 years.
Employers prefer high school graduates who are in good physical condition, but they frequently hire applicants with less education. High school or vocational school courses in carpentry provide a helpful background for drywall work. Regardless of educational background, installers must be good at simple arithmetic. Other useful high school courses include English, wood shop, metal shop, blueprint reading, and mechanical drawing.
Drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers with a few years' experience and with leadership ability may become supervisors. Some workers start their own contracting businesses.
Job OutlookJob opportunities for drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers are expected to be excellent through 2010, partly due to a shortage of adequate training programs. In addition, many potential workers may prefer work that is less strenuous and has more comfortable working conditions. Well-trained workers will have especially favorable opportunities.
Employment is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations over the 2008-12 period, reflecting increases in new construction and remodeling. In addition to traditional interior work, the growing acceptance of insulated exterior wall systems will provide additional jobs for drywall workers.
In addition to those resulting from job growth, many jobs will open up each year because of the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. Because of their relatively weak attachment to the occupation, many drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers with limited skills leave the occupation when they find that they dislike the work or fail to find steady employment.
Despite the growing use of exterior panels, most drywall installation and finishing is done indoors. Therefore, drywall workers lose less worktime because of inclement weather than do some other construction workers. Nevertheless, they may be unemployed between construction projects and during downturns in construction activity.
EarningsIn 2009, the median hourly earnings of drywall and ceiling tile installers were $17.80. The middle 50 percent earned between $12.27 and $20.81. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.68, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $26.86. The median hourly earnings in the largest industries employing drywall and ceiling tile installers in 2006 were:
Nonresidential building construction $16.18
Residential building construction 15.96
Masonry, stonework, and plastering 15.93
In 2009, the median hourly earnings of tapers were $17.81. The middle 50 percent earned between $13.99 and $23.34. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $11.06, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $27.62. The median hourly earnings of tapers in 2000 in masonry, stonework, and plastering were $17.67.
Trainees usually started at about half the rate paid to experienced workers, and received wage increases as they became more highly skilled.
Some contractors pay these workers according to the number of panels they install or finish per day; others pay an hourly rate. A 40-hour week is standard, but the workweek may sometimes be longer. Workers who are paid hourly rates receive premium pay for overtime.
Related OccupationsDrywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers combine strength and dexterity with precision and accuracy to make materials fit according to a plan. Other occupations that require similar abilities include carpenters; carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers; insulation workers; and plasterers and stucco masons.
For information about work opportunities in drywall application and finishing and ceiling tile installation, contact local drywall installation and ceiling tile installation contractors, a local joint union-management apprenticeship committee, a State or local chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, or the nearest office of the State employment service or apprenticeship agency. For details about job qualifications and training programs in drywall application and finishing and ceiling tile installation, contact:
Sources of Additional Information
For information about work opportunities in drywall application and finishing and ceiling tile installation, contact local drywall installation and ceiling tile installation contractors, a local joint union-management apprenticeship committee, a State or local chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, or the nearest office of the State employment service or apprenticeship agency.
For details about job qualifications and training programs in drywall application and finishing and ceiling tile installation, contact: