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How to Become a Painter, Construction or Maintenance

Although most painters learn their trade informally on the job, some learn through a formal apprenticeship.


Some painters learn their trade through a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship, although a few local unions have additional time requirements. For each year of the program, apprentices must have at least 144 hours of technical instruction and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. Through technical instruction, apprentices learn how colors go together; how to use and care for tools and equipment, to prepare surfaces, mix and match paint, and read blueprints; application techniques; characteristics of different finishes; wood finishing; and safety practices. 

After completing an apprenticeship program, painters are considered journey workers and may do tasks on their own.

Unions and contractors sponsor apprenticeship programs. The basic qualifications to enter an apprenticeship program are as follows:

Although the vast majority of workers learn their trade informally on the job or through a formal apprenticeship, some contractors offer their own training program.  


There is no formal educational requirement, but high school courses in English, math, shop, and blueprint reading can be useful. Also, some 2-year technical schools offer courses connected to union and contractor organization apprenticeships. Credits earned as part of an apprenticeship program usually count toward an associate’s degree.


Those interested in industrial painting can earn several certifications from the National Association of Corrosion Engineers. The most common one for construction painters is called Protective Coating Specialist. Courses range from 1 day to several weeks, depending on the certification program and specialty. Applicants must also meet requirements for work experience.

Important Qualities

Color recognition. Painters must be able to identify and differentiate between subtle differences in paint color.

Customer-service skills. Workers who paint the inside and outside of residential homes often interact with clients. They must communicate with the client, listen to what the client wants, and select colors and application techniques that satisfy the client.

Detail oriented. Painters must be precise when creating or painting edges because minor flaws can be noticeable.

Stamina. Painters should be able to stay physically active for many hours, as they spend most of the day standing with their arms often raised above their head.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition