Plasterers mix and then paste plaster onto the interior surfaces of buildings to prepare them for decoration.
The main role of a plasterer is to paste layers of plaster onto walls, floors and ceilings. Plastering serves a protective function, in that it makes buildings more robust, and an aesthetic function. It is a skilled job and there is a high demand for good plasterers.
Plasterers work on a number of different buildings, including new housing developments, offices and houses (redecorations or extensions). They repair or restore existing plasterwork and plaster newly erected walls.
There are approximately 40,000 plasterers working in the UK, and demand is growing due to government housing development schemes.
Plasterers sometimes work on their own when working on peoples’ homes. On larger-scale projects, however, they may work in teams, each covering different sections of a wall.
Because of the physical nature of the job, there are many more male plasterers than female plasterers, typical of the construction industry as a whole. However, there is a growing number of initiatives designed to encourage women to join the industry. Find out more at Know Your Place.
Working hours are often longer than many office-based jobs and, when under tight time constraints, many plasterers have to work weekends and evenings.
Another branch of plastering is fibrous plastering. Fibrous plasterers use plaster which has been mixed with short fibres. They often work in the heritage sector, performing architectural, often restorative work. Under direction from architects, artists and interior designers, they use moulds to create ornamental plasterwork.
Another technique similar to plastering is dry lining. Wall and floor partitions are erected using plasterboard or wallboard instead of bricks. Demand for this skill has been increasing dramatically over the past few years.
Advised industry rates generally determine how much plasterers are paid.
New starters can make up to £17,000 annually. Qualified plasterers can earn up to £22,000, and those with significant experience can earn more than £26,000 a year.
One advantage of the job is that you can work overtime or do extra shifts to earn more.
Self-employed plasterers often earn more, as they can set their own rates based on their reputation and market demand.
Daily tasks can include:
- Speaking with clients to establish their requirements
- Measuring ceilings and walls
- Giving quotes based on resources required to complete work
- Preparing the surface of a wall. This involves removing old plaster and ensuring that all plasterboards are level
- Spreading wet plaster mix onto walls, working from top to bottom
- Scraping the first coat to make a satisfactory base for the second coat
- Applying a third, thinner, final coat
- Maintaining existing plasterwork using specialist hand tools
- Correcting plasterwork
- Applying or removing (skimming) artex from ceilings and walls
- Pebble dashing or applying sand or cement to external walls
For 16-24 year olds and some over-25s, an excellent way to get started as a plasterer is through an apprenticeship scheme. Apprentices learn both on the job and on courses. The variety and number of schemes available depends on the local job market.
Apprenticeship schemes have specific tests, and pre-requisite qualifications include GCSE Maths, English, Design Technology or corresponding vocational qualifications such as the Edexcel Introductory Certificate or Diploma in Construction.
For 16-25 year olds in England and Wales, a Construction Apprenticeship Scheme (CAS) is available.
Full-time and part-time college courses are also available. The City & Guilds Basic Construction Skills award is recommended. If you take this route, it is advised that you also gain on-site experience.
Plasterers need to possess the following skills:
- Excellent hand-eye co-ordination skills
- Practical abilities – good with your hands and tools
- Upper-body strength
- Physical stamina
- Ability to work to deadlines
- Ability to work in a team
- Good attention to detail
- Interpersonal skills, as you will often have to speak to clients
- Confidence with numbers – you have to calculate wall, ceiling and floor areas and the volume of materials needed
- Artistic ability (particularly for decorative jobs and fibrous plastering)
On average, plasterers work 39 hours per week, Monday to Friday. Overtime is common, however.
Plasterers mostly work indoors, but conditions can still be cold, dirty and dusty, and work can be physically demanding. They often have to use ladders and scaffolding, which can be dangerous. Awareness of health and safety issues is therefore extremely important. Plasterers have to stand for most of the day and frequently have to bend over. It therefore pays to be both fit and flexible.
The ability to drive is extremely useful, as the site or home where you are working will not necessarily be near to where you live. On larger jobs, it is sometimes necessary to work away from home for long periods at a time.
Fibrous plasterers, on the other hand, work both on site and in workshops.
There are no formal qualifications required. For those who do not take the apprenticeship route, gaining on-site experience is important. This can be obtained by working as a labourer or ‘plasterer’s mate’.
- Building contractors
- Plastering firms
- Public sector organisations, such as local councils
Plastering is a valuable skill that is needed worldwide, so there may be chances to work on contracts abroad.
You could also move into construction management, which involves planning, budgeting and controlling the overall quality of building projects. Construction management courses are run by colleges and universities across the UK.
After gaining experience, a plasterer can go on to start their own business. To build up a customer base a good reputation is essential. Customer demand should ideally come from word-of-mouth recommendations rather than advertising, which can be expensive. An advantage to being self-employed is that you can organise your own time. This is particularly useful to those with families.
An experienced plasterer could become a teacher, progress to a supervisory position or broaden their experience in other, closely-related trades such as decorating or carpentry.
Also known as…
What’s it really like?
Danny Cutts runs his own plastering construction company. He also owns the hugely popular forum, The Plasterers Forum. He tells us what the job is really like.
I have been in the industry for around six years. Being self-employed is very different from being employed by a company. In addition to plastering daily from 8am to 4pm, I’ll spend a few evenings a week meeting with clients to discuss their requirements. My working week is quite long, even by a plasterer’s standards.
On a typical day, I will begin by putting down the dust sheets. I’ll ensure that all the surfaces which don’t need plastering are protected, and that the surfaces which do need plastering are prepped and ready. This involves applying bonding agent and setting corner beads, which are long pieces of metal that protect the corners of a house from impact and offer a clean, crisp finish.
If skimming needs to be done, the labourer will knock up a few bags of plaster for me. We would normally do two sets: one in the morning and one after lunch. We’ll easily skim an average-sized room in a day, including the ceiling.
After completing a job we will thoroughly clean the workspace and ourselves. This task is very time-consuming, but extremely important. When everything has been cleaned and the van is loaded we’ll get paid.
One of my most challenging but enjoyable jobs was a barn conversion for a local builder. It was a huge project that kept us busy for months. We completed a range of different jobs, including rendering, skimming and cornice work.
Plastering is a dusty and wet job, and in winter you get very cold hands; your skin can develop painful cracks. It’s also tiring and sometimes unpredictable; things can go wrong, meaning that a job can take longer than predicted. It is, however, a skilled job that impresses many people. Every day is different and you never come across the same job twice. I enjoy meeting new people and chatting to customers.
To be a good plasterer, you need an eye for detail, the ability to pick up specialist techniques quickly, and good all-round fitness. Being good at maths is also useful, as you have to work out material quantities and costs in order to price jobs accurately. You also need good people skills, as it is important to keep your customers happy.
I would advise those interested in becoming a plasterer to do an apprenticeship – learn all you can from an experienced plasterer. It’s a tough trade but one of the best paid. Work hard and build a reputation for being clean and a perfectionist and you will never be out of work. Also, always look for ways to improve your work. There are many time-served plasterers still learning from the young guys.
I am very happy with the way my career has progressed so far. My company and forum are extremely successful. Because I am both a plasterer and well-respected online marketer, my career will not necessarily follow the average plasterer’s route. Most plasterers go from a one man band to establishing big construction companies, or they become site agents and work for a number of different firms.