Occupation Profile for Drywall and Ceiling Tile Installers

Apply plasterboard or other wallboard to ceilings or interior walls of buildings. Apply or mount acoustical tiles or blocks, strips, or sheets of shock-absorbing materials to ceilings and walls of buildings to reduce or reflect sound. Materials may be of decorative quality. Includes lathers who fasten wooden, metal, or rockboard lath to walls, ceilings or partitions of buildings to provide support base for plaster, fire-proofing, or acoustical material.

 
 

Significant Points

  • Most workers learn this trade on the job by starting as helpers to more experienced workers; additional classroom instruction may also be needed.
  • Job prospects are expected to be good.
  • Inclement weather seldom interrupts work, but workers may be idled when downturns in the economy slow construction activity.

 

 
 
Overview
$36,140.00 Median Annual Wage 4,000 Average Job Openings Per Year
8.3 Average Unemployment Percentage 85.1 Percentage That Completed High School
186,000 Employment Numbers in 2006 12.9 Percentage That Had Some College
199,000 Employment Numbers in 2016 (est.) 2.0 Percentage That Went Beyond College Degree

Sample Job Titles
Acoustical Carpenter
Acoustical Ceiling Installer
Acoustical Ceiling Mechanic
Acoustical Ceiling Technician
Apprentice, Lather
Boardhanger, Drywall
Carpenter
Ceiling Installer
Dry Wall Installer
Drywall Applicator
Drywall Finisher
Drywall Hanger
Drywall Mechanic
Drywall Sander
Drywall Stripper
Drywall Taper
Drywall Worker
Drywaller
Exterior Interior Specialist
Framer
Furrer
Lath Hand
Lather
Mechanic, Drywall
Metal Framer
Metal Furrer
Metal Lather
Metal Stud Framer
Metal Stud Worker, Drywall
Plaster Lather
Rock Lather
Rockboard Lather
Sheet Rock Applicator
Sheet Rock Applier
Sheet Rock Finisher
Sheet Rock Hanger
Sheet Rock Installer
Sheet Rock Layer
Sheet Rock Nailer
Sheet Rock Sander
Sheet Rock Worker
Sheet Rocker
Sheetrock Applicator
Sheetrock Hanger
Sheetrock Installer
Wire Lather
Wood Lather

Training
  • These occupations often involve using your knowledge and skills to help others. Examples include sheet metal workers, forest fire fighters, customer service representatives, pharmacy technicians, salespersons (retail), and tellers.
  • These occupations usually require a high school diploma and may require some vocational training or job-related course work. In some cases, an associate's or bachelor's degree could be needed.
  • Some previous work-related skill, knowledge, or experience may be helpful in these occupations, but usually is not needed. For example, a teller might benefit from experience working directly with the public, but an inexperienced person could still learn to be a teller with little difficulty.
  • Employees in these occupations need anywhere from a few months to one year of working with experienced employees.

Drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers learn their trade through formal and informal training programs. It can take 3 to 4 years of both classroom and paid on-the-job training to become a fully skilled worker, but many skills can be learned within the first year. In general, the more formal the training process, the more skilled the individual becomes, and the more in demand by employers.

Education and training. Training for this profession can begin in a high school, where classes in English, math, mechanical drawing, blueprint reading, and general shop are recommended. The most common way to get a first job is to find an employer who will provide on-the-job training. Entry-level workers generally start as helpers, assisting more experienced workers. Employers may also send new employees to a trade or vocational school or community college to receive classroom training.

Some employers, particularly large nonresidential construction contractors with union membership, offer employees formal apprenticeships. These programs combine on-the-job training with related classroom instruction—at least 144 hours of instruction each year. The length of the apprenticeship program, usually 3 to 4 years, varies with the apprentice’s skill. Because the number of apprenticeship programs is limited, however, only a small proportion of drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers learn their trade this way.

Helpers and apprentices start by carrying materials, lifting and holding panels, and cleaning up debris. They also learn to use the tools, machines, equipment, and materials of the trade. Within a few weeks, they learn to measure, cut, and install materials. Eventually, they become fully experienced workers. Tapers learn their job 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, drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers learn to estimate the cost of installing and finishing drywall.

Other jobseekers may choose to obtain their classroom training before seeking a job. There are a number of vocational-technical schools and training academies affiliated with the unions and contractors that offer training in these occupations. Employers often look favorably upon graduates of these training programs and usually start them at a higher level than those without the training.

Other qualifications. Some skills needed to become a drywall installer, ceiling tile installer, and taper include manual dexterity, eye-hand coordination, good physical fitness, and a good sense of balance. The ability to solve basic arithmetic problems quickly and accurately also is required. In addition, a good work history or military service is viewed favorably by contractors.

Supervisors and contractors need good English skills in order to deal with clients and subcontractors. They also should be able to identify and estimate the quantity of materials needed to complete a job, and accurately estimate how long a job will take to complete and at what cost.

Apprentices usually must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED. Those who complete apprenticeships registered with the Federal or State Government receive a journey worker certificate, recognized Nationwide.

Advancement. Drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers may advance to carpentry supervisor or general construction supervisor positions. Others may become independent contractors. For those who would like to advance, it is increasingly important to be able to communicate in both English and Spanish in order to relay instructions and safety precautions to workers with limited understanding of English because Spanish-speaking workers make up a large part of the construction workforce in many areas. Knowing English well also makes it easier to advance.

Nature of Work

Drywall consists of a thin layer of gypsum between two layers of heavy paper. It is used to make walls and ceilings in most buildings today because it is faster and cheaper to install than plaster.

There are two kinds of drywall workers—installers and tapers—although many workers do both types of work. Installers, also called framers or hangers, fasten drywall panels to the inside framework of houses and other buildings. Tapers or finishers, prepare these panels for painting by taping and finishing joints and imperfections. In addition to drywall workers, ceiling tile installers and lathers also help to build walls and ceilings.

Because drywall panels are manufactured in standard sizes—usually 4 feet by 8 or 12 feet—drywall installers must measure, cut, fit, and fasten them to the inside framework of buildings. Workers cut smaller pieces to go around doors and windows. Installers saw, drill, 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, called studs. Because drywall is heavy and cumbersome, another worker usually helps the installer to position and secure the panel. Installers often use a lift when placing ceiling panels.

After the drywall is installed, tapers fill joints between panels with a joint compound, also called spackle or "mud." Using the wide, flat tip of a special trowel, they spread the compound into and along each side of the joint with brush-like strokes. They immediately use the trowel to press a paper tape—used to reinforce the drywall and to hide imperfections—into 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 projects, finishers may use automatic taping tools that apply the joint compound and tape in one step. Using increasingly wider trowels, tapers apply second and third coats of the compound, sanding the treated areas after each coat to make them as smooth as the rest of the wall surface. This results in a seamless and almost perfect surface. For hard to reach heights and ceilings, sanding poles are commonly used. Some tapers apply textured surfaces to walls and ceilings with trowels, brushes, or spray guns.

Ceiling tile installers, or acoustical carpenters, apply or mount acoustical tiles or blocks, strips, or sheets of shock-absorbing materials to ceilings and walls of buildings to reduce reflection of sound or to decorate rooms. First, they measure and mark the surface according to blueprints and drawings. Then, they nail or screw moldings to the wall to support and seal the joint between the ceiling tile and the wall. Finally, they mount the tile, either by applying a cement adhesive to the back of the tile and then pressing the tile into place, or by nailing, screwing, stapling, or wire-tying the lath directly to the structural framework.

Making walls out of plaster requires the work of lathers. Lathers apply the support base for plaster coatings, fireproofing, or acoustical materials. This support base, called lath, is put on walls, ceilings, ornamental frameworks, and partitions of buildings before plaster and other coatings are added. Lathers use handtools and portable power tools, to nail, screw, staple, or wire-tie the lath directly to the structural framework of a building. At one time, lath was made of wooden strips, but now, it is usually made of wire, metal mesh, or gypsum, also known as rockboard. Metal lath is used when the plaster on top of it will be exposed to weather or water or when a surface is curved or irregular and not suitable for drywall.

Work environment. As in many other construction trades, this work is sometimes physically strenuous. Drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, lathers, and tapers spend most of the day on their feet, either standing, bending, stretching, or kneeling. Some tapers use stilts to tape and finish ceiling and angle joints. Installers have to lift and maneuver heavy, cumbersome drywall panels. Hazards include falls from ladders and scaffolds and injuries from power tools and from working with sharp tools, such as utility knives. Because sanding a joint compound to a smooth finish creates a great deal of dust, most finishers wear masks and goggles for protection.

A 40-hour week is standard, but the workweeks often fluctuate depending on the workload. Workers who are paid hourly rates receive premium pay for overtime.

Related Occupations

Sources: Career Guide to Industries (CGI), Occupational Information Network (O*Net), Occupation Outlook Handbook (OOH)
Earnings

In May 2006, the median hourly earnings of wage and salary drywall and ceiling tile installers were $17.38. The middle 50 percent earned between $13.60 and $22.58. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $10.90, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $28.85. The median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of drywall and ceiling tile installers were as follows:

Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors $18.10
Drywall and insulation contractors 17.42
Nonresidential building construction 17.26
Residential building construction 17.26

In May 2006, the median hourly earnings of wage and salary tapers were $19.85. The middle 50 percent earned between $14.65 and $25.70. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $11.59, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $31.23.

Some contractors pay these workers according to the number of panels they install or finish per day; others pay an hourly rate.

Trainees usually start at about half the rate paid to experienced workers and receive wage increases as they became more skilled.

For the latest wage information:

The above wage data are from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey program, unless otherwise noted. For the latest National, State, and local earnings data, visit the following pages:

  • Drywall and ceiling tile installers
  • Tapers
  • Job Outlook

    Employment is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations, largely reflecting overall growth of the construction industry. Good job prospects are expected overall.

    Employment change. Employment is expected to grow by 7 percent between 2006 and 2016, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Growth reflects the number of new construction and remodeling projects. New residential construction projects are expected to provide the majority of new jobs during the projection decade, but home improvement and renovation projects are also expected to create jobs because existing residential and nonresidential buildings are getting old and need repair.

    Job prospects. Job opportunities for drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers are expected to be good. Many potential workers are not attracted to this occupation because they prefer work that is less strenuous and has more comfortable working conditions. Experienced workers will have especially favorable opportunities.

    Besides those resulting from job growth, many jobs will open up each year because of the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.

    Despite the growing use of exterior panels, most drywall installation and finishing is done indoors. Therefore, drywall workers lose less work time because of inclement weather than do some other construction workers. Nevertheless, like many other construction workers, employment is sensitive to the fluctuations of the economy. Workers in these trades may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand, shortages of these workers may occur in some areas during peak periods of building activity.

    Employment

    Drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers held about 240,000 jobs in 2006. Most worked for contractors specializing in drywall and ceiling tile installation; others worked for contractors doing many kinds of construction. About 56,000 were self-employed independent contractors.

    Most installers and tapers are employed in populous areas. In other areas, where there may not be enough work to keep a drywall or ceiling tile installer employed full time, carpenters and painters usually do the work.

    Knowledge
    • Mathematics — Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.
    • Engineering and Technology — Knowledge of the practical application of engineering science and technology. This includes applying principles, techniques, procedures, and equipment to the design and production of various goods and services.
    • Sales and Marketing — Knowledge of principles and methods for showing, promoting, and selling products or services. This includes marketing strategy and tactics, product demonstration, sales techniques, and sales control systems.
    • Medicine and Dentistry — Knowledge of the information and techniques needed to diagnose and treat human injuries, diseases, and deformities. This includes symptoms, treatment alternatives, drug properties and interactions, and preventive health-care measures.
    • Physics — Knowledge and prediction of physical principles, laws, their interrelationships, and applications to understanding fluid, material, and atmospheric dynamics, and mechanical, electrical, atomic and sub- atomic structures and processes.
    Skills
    • Equipment Maintenance — Performing routine maintenance on equipment and determining when and what kind of maintenance is needed.
    • Coordination — Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions.
    • Active Learning — Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
    • Writing — Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.
    • Troubleshooting — Determining causes of operating errors and deciding what to do about it.
    Abilities
    • Near Vision — The ability to see details at close range (within a few feet of the observer).
    • Stamina — The ability to exert yourself physically over long periods of time without getting winded or out of breath.
    • Explosive Strength — The ability to use short bursts of muscle force to propel oneself (as in jumping or sprinting), or to throw an object.
    • Oral Comprehension — The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
    • Hearing Sensitivity — The ability to detect or tell the differences between sounds that vary in pitch and loudness.
    Tasks
    • Supplemental — Nail channels or wood furring strips to surfaces to provide mounting for tile.
    • Core — Cut fixture and border tiles to size, using keyhole saws, and insert them into surrounding frameworks.
    • Core — Measure and mark surfaces to lay out work according to blueprints and drawings, using tape measures, straightedges or squares, and marking devices.
    • Supplemental — Wash concrete surfaces before mounting tile to increase adhesive qualities of surfaces, using washing soda and zinc sulfate solution.
    • Core — Cut metal or wood framing, and trim to size, using cutting tools.
    Activities
    • Monitoring and Controlling Resources — Monitoring and controlling resources and overseeing the spending of money.
    • Guiding, Directing, and Motivating Subordinates — Providing guidance and direction to subordinates, including setting performance standards and monitoring performance.
    • Assisting and Caring for Others — Providing personal assistance, medical attention, emotional support, or other personal care to others such as coworkers, customers, or patients.
    • Repairing and Maintaining Electronic Equipment — Servicing, repairing, calibrating, regulating, fine-tuning, or testing machines, devices, and equipment that operate primarily on the basis of electrical or electronic (not mechanical) principles.
    • Getting Information — Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
    Related College Curriculum
     
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