There are about 193,000 painting and coating workers, except construction and maintenance painters, in the United States. Job projections for the next decade indicate that growth will be above average for all jobs.
60% of all painting and coating work is in manufacturing. This type of work permits on the job training, which can last from one week to several months. However, becoming truly skilled is likely to take two years or more.
Painting and coating workers apply stain or color finish, plastic, chocolate, or some other type of coating to everything from vehicles to jelly beans. Painting or coating provides two purposes. It can make a functional product visually appealing, or it can protect a product from damage. Before a coating can be applied, the surface must be prepared. Metal or wood may need to be sanded, and plastic may need to be scored so that covering will adhere.
There are a number of ways to apply paint or coating. An efficient method is to dip the product into a vat, lift it out on a rack, and let it dry. Smaller items such as cell phones are often treated this way. Spray machines are used to cover fabric, ceramic, metal, wood, paper, and food products. Spray machine operators load the tanks with the proper mix of chemical solution and tint, adjust the nozzles, and align the spray guns. They must periodically check the thickness and make a visual check for quality. Drying temperatures must be controlled as well.
Workers paint, coat, and decorate items such as dishware, glass, toys, cakes, books. Some cover bakery goods with melted chocolate, cheese, oils, sugar, or other edibles. Paper can become reflective or glossy with a coating. Silver, tin, and copper solutions are coated onto glass to make mirrors.
Transportation equipment painters are considered the most highly skilled and respected spray operators, performing delicate, detailed work and mixing paints by hand to precisely match color on vehicles that are 50 years old or more. Transportation equipment painters working on new cars operate automatic equipment. After an anti-corrosion bath, the vehicle is coated with color and then layered with clear protective covering. In general, with all types of coating, sufficiently thick coverage is obtained by going through the steps several times.
Painting and coating workers work in factories where they are exposed to dangerous fumes. However, recent regulations have minimized fume emissions and other hazardous pollutants. Painters usually work in ventilated booths and wear respirators. Operators spend long hours on their feet and may have to assume awkward positions to reach areas that are hard to get to; this can result in muscle pain or headaches.
While some employees will accept job applicants lacking a high school diploma, most prefer one. Training is largely on the job. As trainees learn each new machine, they are advanced to increasingly difficult work.
Those hoping to advance should voluntarily seek certification by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). Two years of field experience is required, and a written test must be passed. The test must be retaken every five years. Painting and coating workers who demonstrate strong communication skills, can read blueprints, can operate computerized machinery, and show leadership ability can advance to team leader or supervisory positions. Some become paint and coating inspectors. Other possibilities include becoming representatives for chemical or paint companies.
The median hourly pay for coating, painting, and spraying machine setters, operators, and tenders is less than $15. Those in the highest 10% earn more than $20 per hour. The median hourly pay for transportation equipment painters is about $18 per hour, with those in the top 10% earning more than $30 per hour.