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Drywall consists of a thin layer of gypsum sandwiched between two layers of heavy paper. It is used today for walls and ceilings in most buildings because it is both faster and cheaper to install than plaster.
There are two kinds of drywall workers: installers and finishers. Installers, also called applicators, fasten drywall panels to the inside framework of residential houses and other buildings. Finishers, or tapers, 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 feetinstallers 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 is often used when placing ceiling panels.
After the drywall is installed, finishers fill joints between panels with a joint compound. Using the wide, flat tip of a special trowel, they spread the joint compound into and along each side of the joint with brushlike strokes. They immediately use the trowel to press a paper tapeused to reinforce the drywall and to hide imperfectionsinto 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. Finishers apply second and third coats, 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 finishers apply textured surfaces to walls and ceilings with trowels, brushes, or spray guns.
Lathers apply metal or gypsum lath to walls, ceilings, or ornamental frameworks to form the support base for plaster coatings. Gypsum lath is similar to a drywall panel, but smaller. 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. Lathers usually nail, screw, staple, or wire-tie the lath directly to the structural framework.
As in other construction trades, drywall and lathing work sometimes is strenuous. Applicators, tapers, finishers, and lathers spend most of the day on their feet, either standing, bending, or kneeling. Some finishers 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. Because sanding joint compound to a smooth finish creates a great deal of dust, some finishers wear masks for protection.
Drywall workers and lathers held about 133,000 jobs in 1994. Most worked for contractors who specialize in drywall or lathing installation; others worked for contractors who do many kinds of construction. Nearly one-third were self employed independent contractors.
Most installers, finishers, and lathers are employed in urban areas. In other areas, where there may not be enough work to keep a drywall worker or lather employed full time, the work is usually done by carpenters and painters.
Most drywall and lathing workers start as helpers and learn their skills on the job. Installer and lather 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. Finisher 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, they learn to estimate the cost of installing and finishing drywall and gypsum lath.
Some installers and lathers 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 carpentry that includes instruction in drywall and lath installation. 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 a 2-year apprenticeship program for drywall finishers.
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.
Drywall workers and lathers with a few years' experience and leadership ability may become supervisors. Some workers start their own contracting businesses.
Replacement needs will account for almost all job openings for drywall workers and lathers through the year 2005. Tens of thousands of jobs will open up each year because of the need to replace workers who transfer to jobs in other occupations or leave the labor force. Turnover in this occupation is very high, reflecting the lack of formal training requirements and the ups and downs of the business cycle, to which the construction industry is very sensitive. Because of their relatively weak attachment to the occupation, many workers with limited skills leave the occupation when they find they dislike the work or because they can't find steady employment.
Additional job openings will be created by the rising demand for drywall work. Employment is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations, reflecting the slow growth of new construction and renovation. In addition to traditional interior work, the growing acceptance of insulated exterior wall systems will provide additional jobs for drywall workers.
Despite the growing use of exterior panels, most drywall installation, finishing, and lathing are usually done indoors. Therefore, these workers lose less work time because of bad weather than some other construction workers. Nevertheless, they may be unemployed between construction projects and during downturns in construction activity.
Median weekly earnings for drywall workers and lathers were about $419 in 1994. The middle 50 percent earned between $311 and $596 weekly. The top 10 percent earned over $818 and the bottom 10 percent earned less than $257 a week. 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 sometimes the workweek may be longer. Those who are paid hourly rates receive premium pay for overtime.
Drywall workers and lathers combine strength and dexterity with precision and accuracy to make materials fit according to a plan. Other occupations that require similar abilities include carpenters, floor covering installers, form builders, insulation workers, and plasterers.
For information about work opportunities in drywall application and finishing, contact local drywall installation contractors; a local of the unions previously mentioned; 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 State apprenticeship agency.
For details about job qualifications and training programs in drywall application and finishing, write to:
Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc., 1300 North 17th St., Rosslyn, VA 22209.
International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades, 1750 New York Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20006.
For information on training programs in drywall application and lathing, write to:
United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, 101 Constitution Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20001.
Home Builders Institute, National Association of Home Builders, 1201 15th St. NW., Washington, DC 20005.
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