Taking on a Decorating Apprentice

Updated May 9, 2024 | Posted Feb 13, 2021 | Professional insight, Business | 2 comments

I’ve been a self-employed decorator for well over ten years now and in that time I’ve built up a nice little business. I’ve also had a few apprentices, a couple of them worked out, most didn’t. There are loads of negatives to taking on a young lad or lady, but when you get a good one, they’re invaluable!!

In this blog I’ll go through both the negatives and the positives of taking on a decorating apprentice, then go through the process I take when looking for the right one. Most of this blog is opinion based, and all of it comes off the back of my own experiences. Take from it what you will.


The Downside of Taking on an Apprentice


Ok, I’m going to sound like my dad here, but the kids of today just don’t want to graft!! They’re fresh from school and aren’t used to physical labour. It’s a shock to the system for them. (It must be hard to be fair, but they just need to suck it up).

It’s an ongoing battle to get them out of bed in the morning, looking presentable, actually turning up and all the rest of it. Plus, while they don’t know the trade, it takes so much of your time going over what they’ve done that it isn’t cost effective either. Running a business is hard enough, without all the aggravation of having an apprentice who doesn’t want to be there. You go through them too!! They get fed up, start missing days, then you’ve got to sack them and start all over again. All that time you’ve invested in them is wasted.


The Upside of having an Apprentice


If you can find one that’s willing to throw themselves into it, stay focused and not let you down, after a few months of learning you’ll have a valuable asset. Menial tasks like prep work, washing tools out, cleaning up and tidying the van are all taken care of. You still need to check over what they do and try and teach them, but they make life a lot easier. When you find a good apprentice, you don’t mind taking the time to teach them. You must, otherwise it isn’t fair on them. Even things they’ll never do for you like pricing a job. Talk them through products, processes, spraying, wallpapering. Everything really.


Finding the Right Apprentice


The only way to know whether a newbie is any good in my opinion is to give them a trial run. I just stick an add on my local Facebook buy and sell site and talk to a few of the people who apply. Unless alarm bells start ringing straight away, ask one of them to come and do a weeks’ graft, then both parties can decide if the position is right. Deliberately give them the worst jobs to do too!! If they stick at if for the whole week and throw themselves into the work, offer them longer. If they don’t impress you, wave goodbye and trial a different one. I wouldn’t bother putting them into collage until they’ve done a few months in the job and you know they’re likely to stick with it.

I have phoned the local collage in the past and asked them if any of their decorating students needed a start. They normally do, but I understand they need a chance, but there’s a reason they don’t already have an employer.  None of those I have picked up through collage have worked out.


Final Thoughts


Taking on a decorating apprentice can be frustrating, but as an otherwise solo decorator, trust me, it’s worth it. You build up a working relationship with someone who wants to help you drive your business forward. To be part of the team. They make a positive difference to your business, and you will make a positive difference to their life. It’s rewarding and well worth the aggravation of getting them to that point. Just be ready to drop anyone you think does not have the correct attitude.

Updated May 9, 2024 | Posted Feb 13, 2021 | 2 comments

About the Author

About the Author

Mike Cupit has been in the decorating industry since 2002 and has mostly worked as a Trade Decorator in the domestic sector (peoples’ homes). Self-proclaimed “product geek”, Mike has a passion for paint and decorating tools. Mike now spends most of his time testing paint products and tools, comparing them to similar products on the market, and blogging about the industry in general.


  1. Paul Leaman

    In most colleges the full time painters and decorators are the students with the lowest grades. This happens for a few reasons.
    1. Mis information. Students are told bricklayers earn this electricians and carpenters earn that. So the learners wrongly thinks they’re going for the higher money. I have researched this to find that Decorators earn on average more than Electricians, Brickies, and carpenters in that order.

    2. Most of these colleges are ran by individuals with no idea how the construction industry or the Decorating industry works so Decorators in colleges generally get lumped in with your basis site painters as this is classed as a construction college.
    3. The piss you can paint attitude, basically means anyone should be able to do it. The new painting and decorating apprenticeship should take 3 years to complete, bricklaying 2,5 years carpenters 2 years. So which is the harder craft to learn?

    4. Students with good grades will go straight onto full time level 3 management/ supervisor courses with no previous experience and coming straight from school. They will also be pushed into the so called high money apprenticeships, plumbing, Electrician, Carpentry or bricklaying or professional apprenticeships. This leaves a very small pool of learners left for Decorating.

    5 Too many employers with different ideas of what an apprentice is. Everyone has done an apprenticeship of some kind, some recognised some not. But we all have to learn some where.

    6. We need to think about not whether we get the best apprentice but being the best employer for that apprentice.
    The professional part of our craft in my opinion is failing. We need to act now to save our craft.

  2. Jake

    I’m an apprentice painter and decorate first year most the people in the company I work for know that I can do mostly anything but some don’t and put me on sanding all day is that a reasonable job to put me on all day?


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