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Drywall Construction Installation Careers and Jobs

Career and Job Highlights

  • The majority of workers learn through experience as either assistants or apprentices.
  • Opportunities for those entering the profession are projected to be excellent.
  • Like most occupations in construction employment can be affected by economic downturns. However, unlike other construction occupations, this occupation is not as affected by changes in the weather.

Drywall Installation Career Overview

Drywall is a construction material made of a slim layer of gypsum that is sandwiched by two layers of thick paper. It is commonly used in building ceilings and walls as it is easier and more inexpensive than plaster.

There are two types of people who work with drywall. The first type is an installer or applicator. They secure panels of the drywall to frames in buildings to create walls or ceilings. The second type is a taper or finisher. They get the panels ready to be painted by taping and smoothing out seams or irregularities. Many workers can do both tasks.

Most drywall is made in panels of fixed sizes, usually 4ft x 8 ft or 4ft x 12ft. This means that drywall installers have to cut the panels to size and shape them to fit around windows, doors, and fixtures like electrical outlets or vents. They then attach the drywall to the framework using nails, screws, or adhesives. Drywall is extremely unwieldy and heavy and so installers usually have assistants to help them get the panels into place. They may also use lifting equipment to position it.

Following installation a finisher uses a special mixture to fill in any spaces between panels. They use the edge of a trowel to insert the mixture into joints and along with sides like they’re applying paint. Before the mixture has a chance to dry, they attach paper tape to the mixture which makes the drywall stronger and smoothes out irregularities like nails and screw heads. Finishers might install the tape by hand using a trowel or with a taping tool that applies the mixture and tape simultaneously. Finishers apply a total of three coats, smoothing each coat as needed before applying the next layer. When they’re done they have a perfectly smooth and uniform wall. Some projects call for a textured finish which finishers create using brushes, sprayers, or trowels.

Ceiling tile installers, also called acoustical carpenters, muffle sound and decorate walls and ceilings by installing sheets of acoustical tiles, strips or panels of tile, or other materials that absorb vibrations. To begin with they make a layout according to the blue prints to make sure that everything is the right size and shape. Next, they attach molding to the area to be covered to secure and seal the space between wall and ceiling tile. They then put the tile in place using cement glue, nails, screws, stables, or wire.

Lathers are involved in installing tile as well. They attach lath of rockboard or metal to partitions, wall panels, and ceilings. Lath creates a foundation for installing plaster, fireproof bricks, or sound-muffling materials. Lath used to be made out of strips of wood, but now it’s mostly made of wire, rockboard, or mesh. Lath made of metal is sturdier and so it is most often applied in places where they plaster will be open to the elements or for oddly shaped surfaces where drywall can’t be used. Lathers use both hand and power tools to nail, staple, wire, or screw the lath onto the framework.

These occupations, like others in the construction industry, can be physically taxing. People in these trades spend a lot of time of their feet or kneeling. Many tapers even have to use ladders or stilts to reach ceilings and corners. Drywall installers have to handle the heavy sheets of drywall. The work can be dangerous as well, as workers might fall from stilts, scaffolds, or ladders; and they use potentially hazardous materials and power tools. Workers have to wear safety gear like harnesses, hardhats, gloves, and sometimes masks when they’re sanding since it creates large amounts of dust.

Some workers in these occupations gain their skills through completing an apprenticeship. Most apprenticeships are run by local contractors who collaborate with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. Completing an apprenticeship usually takes three years and involves six thousand hours of practical training and 144 hours of time in the classroom. Other organizations sponsor apprenticeships as well. The Associated Builders and Contractors and the National Association of Home Builders administers programs for workers who aren’t part of a union. Another organization is the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, which runs a program specifically designed for drywall installers and that lasts from two to three years.

Most hirers look for people with high school diplomas or equivalent degrees who are physically fit. Applicants with experience in carpentry, drafting, English, reading blueprints, woodworking, or metalworking will have an edge. The level of education required is flexible but all applicants need to have basic math skills and communication skills.

As people in these occupations gain experience they can be eligible for positions as supervisors and some even become self-employed as contractors.

Job and Employment Opportunities

Job prospects for those entering the profession are projected to be excellent. This is largely due to the fact that many workers prefer less physically demanding work. Individuals who have previous experience will have the best prospects.

Job growth is projected to be higher than the average due to increasing amounts of construction and the higher number of people looking to remodel older buildings. People who work with drywall will be involved primarily in interior work but a growing number will be involved in putting in insulated walls on the exteriors of structures.

Aside from those new jobs that are created by growth in the industry, job openings will also come from retirements and career transfers. Many workers transfer to other occupations because of the difficult and possibly unstable nature of the work.

The majority of work done by drywall workers is done inside. This means that the amount of work isn’t dependent on the weather like it is in many other construction occupations. However, work may not be stable during economic downturns when there is less construction generally.

Historical Earnings Information

Most drywall installers and tile installers are paid hourly. The majority of workers made between $12.40/h and $21.50/h in 2002 with a median of $16.20/h. The lowest tenth on the pay scale made under $9.80/h and the highest tenth made over $28.00/h. Median earnings varied based on where workers were employed. Building finishers contractors paid about $2/h higher than nonresidential building contractors.

The majority of tapers earned between $14.60/h and $24.7/h in 2002 with a median of $18.80/h. The lowest tenth on the pay scale made under $11.10/h and the highest tenth made over $29.30/h.

Those entering the occupation as trainees generally had a starting wage of half of the salary of an experienced worker and received raises according to their skill level.