What's it really like?
John Mansell Smith has been a self-employed painter & decorator for four years. He explains what it’s like to run your own business.
“I became a self-employed painter & decorator when I took early retirement from my professional job in London, where I was employed as a Principal Building Surveyor.
When I retired, I needed some additional income to supplement my pension, and having been in the building industry I was fully aware of the standard and quality which would be required to produce work to a professional standard.
For a typical day at work, I usually arrive at the job at 8.30 am, and then depending on the sort of work I am doing it will vary a great deal.
I could be undertaking external decorations or internal decorations, but in each case it would require covering and protecting the client's furniture, preparation of surfaces, washing down the walls, painting, wallpapering, cleaning up, etc. I try to leave at about 4.30 pm, but this may vary depending on the stage that I have reached with the job.
In terms of likes and dislikes, I don’t enjoy working outside in poor weather, although I try to plan my workload to avoid this. However, I do like the freedom of being my own boss and getting complimented on a good job.
If you wanted to be a painter and decorator, you would have to decide whether you wish to work for a company with the benefits such as holiday pay, but with the constraints of not being your own boss, or working for yourself with the freedom this gives but also the uncertainty of workload.
As a self-employed person I can charge about £15 per hour for work that I do on an hourly rate, or I base any calculations on this rate when I am producing an estimate for a client.
In attempting to find work, I would try the job centre, trade journals, large decorating companies, the internet and building training boards.
To do the job you need to be a clean, neat worker with an eye for detail. The job you produce is the final result that the client will see, so it is vital that you can produce a finished job that you would be happy to have in your own home.
Painter & Decorator
A painter & decorator is responsible for preparing a surface and applying a range of finishes to it in response to the particular specifications of a job, paying close attention to detail to create a quality end product.
The specific role of the painter & decorator is to prepare and decorate a particular surface in accordance with the wishes of the client. This will involve working on a wide variety of surfaces, including metal, wood, plaster and stone, and incorporating numerous materials, such as paint, varnish and wallpaper.
The jobs involved depend upon the area that the painter & decorator works in. This can range from the industrial, specially-trained worker supplying skills for a large company, to the part-time, self-employed worker complementing a pension. A lot of the roles of the painter & decorator will come somewhere in between.
If working for a larger construction firm, work can include more industrial-scale jobs, such as working as part of a team to prepare and paint the interior of a building or office. This will often involve specialist industrial techniques and larger equipment.
If self-employed, this will normally include working independently on smaller jobs such as decorating private houses, schools, shops and other local buildings.
Earnings will vary significantly depending on the type of work being done.
If working for a larger employer, the following salaries offer a guideline:
- New Entrants: £13,500 - £16,500
- Qualified Workers: £17,000 - £21,000
- Workers with specialist skills / supervisors: over £22,000
If self-employed and working at an hourly rate, then £15 per hour can be expected.
Working as a painter & decorator involves numerous responsibilities. In nearly all cases, these will include:
- Arriving at the job on time.
- Producing a satisfactory result for the client and working to the standards that they expect.
- Managing work load effectively.
- Following the specific instructions in terms of style, colour and finish.
- Cleaning up properly after a job.
If self-employed, then further responsibilities will also need to be taken into account, such as:
- Taking care of accounts, tax and expenditures.
- Finding new business, perhaps through local advertising.
- Arranging travel between jobs.
- Managing workload effectively.
No specific qualifications are required to work as a painter & decorator. However, in seeking employment, a certain amount of on-site experience is usually required.
This could include experience in building or construction, which would provide a foundation of the skills required to do the job effectively.
A complete beginner could use an apprenticeship as a way of getting initial experience in the field. To apply for an apprenticeship, applicants would usually need GCSEs in Maths, English and Technology as a basic entry point. The apprenticeships website is a good source of information.
Specific courses also exist both to provide initial experience, and to accompany the learning experience of a trainee who is already working for a company. These include:
- City & Guilds Level 1 Certificate in Basic Construction Skills
- CITB Intermediate/Advanced Construction Award in Decorative Occupations
These provide a foundation in the type of work involved to help the trainee to develop their skills whilst on the job.
Local colleges and institutes are a good place to look for these courses, and details can also be found at Construction Skills.
A painter & decorator will need a wide variety of skills for the job. Although specialist skills can be gained through experience and further courses, the following will be required at all stages:
- The ability to work to a high standard
- Respect for the area of work
- Ability to work hard and effectively
- A good eye for detail
- Excellent practical skills
- Sound awareness of Health and Safety issues
- Ability to work both alone and as part of a larger team
The working conditions will vary with each job, but in all cases will include:
- Working with potentially hazardous substances, and taking the necessary protective measures.
- Working in dangerous environments, negotiating ladders, heights and equipment.
- Completing jobs in a variety of different settings.
- Working both indoors and outside.
- Working a 40-hour week.
If working inside a person’s home, special attention will need to be paid to the different problems that can be encountered, such as those presented by pets and furniture. It is also essential to respect the private space of the client, and to work appropriately within it.
If working for a construction firm, dangerous situations can be encountered, such as working at heights and employing the use of safety harnesses and ropes.
Working outside brings with it its own hazards and difficulties, and the worker will need to plan for these accordingly through the types of clothing worn and the equipment used.
The days can be long, and the hours can vary significantly. If self-employed, planning is essential to fit in as many jobs as is appropriate for the week, in order to avoid long spells of little work, or booking too many jobs into a short period of time. It is also possible that some jobs will require unsociable hours of work, such as working at the weekend.
Although the profession is traditionally male dominated, more women are now being encouraged into the trade.
Experience is more important than qualifications when attempting to find work. Working as a mate, or completing an apprenticeship, are both good ways to get this initial experience.
If working independently as a self-employed person, experience is also necessary in order to be aware of the standard of work expected. A bad job will be easily noticed, and may lead to difficulty finding further work.
When already working for a company, more in-depth courses can be completed in order to gain experience, which can sometimes lead to increases in salary.
These courses could include:
- An NVQ in Decorative Finishing and Industrial Painting
- An SVQ in Construction: Painting and Decorating
Many employers will now ask for a CSCS (Construction Skills Certificate Scheme) card. This provides proof of the level of experience of the worker, and involves having an NVQ and passing a Health & Safety assessment. Further details can be found on the CSCS website.
When seeking work, job-seekers should look out for:
- Construction firms
- Building contractors
- Painting contractors
- Local authorities
If self employed, work will have to be found in a variety of settings, which can include:
- Private houses
As well as completing further qualifications whilst working on the job, other opportunities exist to develop skills in different areas. These can include:
- Progressing to team-leader or supervisor within a company.
- Specialist areas, including restoration work or industrial painting.
- Switching from working for a company to setting up an independent business.
- Moving to other areas within a particular company, such as contract management.