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    Training – painting and decorating apprenticeships

    Small businesses need new blood in order to expand. The default position in the decorating trade is to look to local colleges for students to fill painting and decorating apprenticeships, and bring youngsters up through the ranks. Martin Dunn has a vacancy, and lays out the reality of finding an apprentice. It doesn’t quite gel with how we are told it is supposed to work.

    A bit of background before I start.

    I’m in my mid 40’s with 2 grown up lads, both of them have done apprenticeships – none in decorating I hasten to add – and a 15 year-old daughter.

    Like a lot of people, school wasn’t really for me. These were the days before every man and their dog went to university, I think my school held a party when someone once got accepted at Wolverhampton Poly! So, as the local industries were on the bones of their bum, the choice was a YTS or the dole. When I left school I started on a YTS scheme, that was in 1985.

    Life in training

    Now, YTS had their problems and were used and abused by employers, but they gave you a chance to learn a trade and give you a work ethic. They also gave you just enough money for 20 benson, 4 cans of breaker, bottle of MD 20/20 and one night’s rental of Driller Killer from pervy Ron at the local video shop – under the counter of course.

    After doing a few months on a Henry Boot general construction YTS, I decided it wasn’t for me and got on a CITB run decorating YTS instead.

    The rest is History as they say.

    I have also worked in 4 different colleges as a decorating lecturer and an assessor on the road.

    What I am trying to say is, hopefully, I have seen the trade from both the trainee and trainer sides.

    My experience with apprentices to date

    I also run my own small decorating company, and over the years, have taken on apprentices. 5 in total (4 lads and 1 girl) plus others on work experience. They have all been enrolled at college whilst with me.

    This has had varying degrees of success:

    1 was useless and lasted about 4 months.

    1 decided it wasn’t for her and left to be a swimming instructor after a year – no hard feelings.

    1 was with me for about 10 months and though a nice lad I thought would never be a decorator in a million years. It gives me great pleasure to hear that this once lanky streak of piss 16 year-old is now a qualified decorator in Australia – I couldn’t be more happy.

    1 was really good and stopped with us for about 2 years before his head was turned by the opportunity to earn more money on new builds. He is now back on domestic decorating, since the housing bubble burst.

    Dan is currently with me and has been, for the last 18 months +.

    My experience with apprentices going forward

    Business is good, and I am now in the market for another apprentice to work alongside Dan, and this is really what this post is all about.

    When I was on my YTS, there were 3 groups of lads in the 1st year with about 18 in each group.

    ALL OF US WERE PLACED WITH COMPANIES, ie about 55 of us in total. Plus you had your 2nd and 3rd year students, also in work.

    When I took Dan on 18 months ago, I put the word out at his college, where they are studying towards level 1,2 & 3 diplomas in P&D, that I was interested in offering someone an apprenticeship, and any one interested, should come for an interview.

    2 people turned up.

    This time the same offer / request went out.

    NO ONE TURNED UP. NO ONE WAS EVEN INTERESTED. This was out of around 40 students

    Diploma students

    The college still has groups of students studying towards level 1 and 2 diploma qualifications full time (they spend 2-3 days at college) but it seems like none of them want to work???!! It looks like they would rather go to college working towards an unrecognised and worthless qualification than work?

    Bit harsh, you think?


    How many employers have heard of diplomas? Most struggle to know what NVQ’S are, even though they have been around for over 20 years.

    What do most employers want? Experience and a willingness to work, in my opinion as an employer.

    Looking for a more experienced student

    I know, I will try a level 3 student, thinks me. Bit older, wiser, more willing to work?

    I am sent the best student in the class. Great, thinks me.

    Late turning up for his interview, not a good start, but I thought I would give him a chance.

    He couldn’t paint a window (“we don’t really do that at college”) and after waxing 2 doors, he asked if he could do something else as “I’m sick of doors“.

    He lasted 3 days with me, before I had enough.

    When I went to pay him, he said he was expecting more money.

    “Why ?” said me.

    “Because im fully qualified” says he! This is a lad who had never been to work before, couldn’t paint a window, didn’t want to wax doors, and just had a level 2 diploma to his name!!

    So I am back to square one.

    I have had another lad in this week on a trial, but I can’t see that working out.

    The difference between what “they” say and the reality


    Not in my experience they aren’t. (Also, my friend is an on site assessor for hairdressing and she says Hairdressing companies are in the same boat – crying out for trainees)

    With my college hat and employer hat on, this is what seems to be going on.

    The students are happy to go to college full-time, because they are working towards qualifications that colleges are telling them will get them a job!? As an employer, I don’t see that theory working out.

    The colleges are happy because more bums on seats equals more income.

    The government are happy, as the current system boosts their numbers on qualifications for 16 – 19 year olds. It also keeps the youth unemployment numbers down.

    But where does that leave me and every other tradesman or company that wants to train up the next generation?

    More importantly, where does that leave the decorating trade?

    How to move forward?

    As I said at the beginning, I have grown-up kids myself that did not go to university. I know all kids are not wired the same, and not every youngster wants to be a painter and decorator, but where do we go from here? How can we all move forward?

    Martin Dunn Painting and decorating specialist Birmingham Staffordshire South CheshireSpecialist painter and decorator, Martin Dunn, is a member of the Traditional Painter UK network. He is the first port of call for painting and decorating projects from Birmingham to Stafford and S Cheshire.

    Martin has been a specialist decorator for many years, and is expert in most traditional decorative finishes, and wallcoverings. He also spent 7 years lecturing, and is one of only a few in the country who were qualified to assess the workmanship of professional decorators.


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    7 comments to “Training – painting and decorating apprenticeships”

    1. Charles Budd

      I think you’re so right, there seems to be a lack of a hard work ethic. Yes there are exceptions, but they seem to be the exception as opposed to the rule. Changing that throughout society is a tough one!

      I know when I first started as a trainee, my boss at the time was really busy and had a few guys working for him. As the work got less into the autumn I remained as the only guy on his ‘team’. I asked why, as the other guys were more experienced. He just said ‘attitude’.

      Yes, skill is important, but attitude is so much more important. Someone with a good attitude wants to learn, someone with basic skills and a bad attitude won’t learn. The first person will soon overtake the second.

      On average, I’ve found that the women decorators I’ve worked with have had a better attitude than the blokes. I’ve only worked with a handful, but on the whole they tend to be more on time, tidier, and just get on with it. Maybe that’s one answer – more female tradespeople giving the blokes a bit of a kick up the arse!? I know it’s happening in other industries (like photography, particularly weddings) so maybe it’ll happen in decorating.

      Good luck with finding someone Martin. I know I’d be more than happy to work with you any day of the week! What an opportunity – to work with someone with more experience and tricks up his sleeve than Dynamo.

    2. Brian Davies

      very well put and written Martin. My thoughts exactly about qualifications studied at college as they have no real world experience but think they are qualified.

    3. Mark Priest

      whilst I can appreciate the idea of getting younger people on board, and them being given a chance, it would appear to be a lost cause. At what point do you give up and say, enough is enough – I need to fill a vacancy, I’ll give the job to someone older and with more experience.
      Or is it the case that, to keep costs down a younger person is the only option, or are you just doing your utmost to support the youngsters?

    4. M Dunn Decorating martin dunn

      Of course money is an issue as im a buisness. But i first got into lecturing as the trainees i was being sent from the college were not up to scratch. “I could do a better job” was my attitude so i applied to work part time.
      I had all my decorating quals but had to go back to school to get my teaching and assessing quals. I also had to do my maths and english as i left school with just a cse in woodwork.
      I made a commiment as it was something i wanted to do.

      When taking someone on you make the same commiment to train them up as your in it for the long haul, hopefully. What you hope for in return is a loyal employee who will be an asset to you and the best they can be.
      I have took on older re trained people in the past and my experience was that just because they did there own and families decorating they thought they were good and expected to be paid hansome. Well i have high standards and when you told them there work aint up to scratch or a 1 day job is taking a week, they took the hump. They also then leave you to set up on there own and try and go in against you.
      Whats as bad as the poor trainee? The self taught all the gear no idea decorator with there delusions of grandure imo.

      Dont think im saying all the kids are the same. Dan who works for me has never been late

    5. M Dunn Decorating martin dunn

      Is polite and the customers love him. But as Charlie says he does seem to be in the minority.

      By the way Charlie you are more than welcome to come and do a bit with me and Matt. We will have you swearing like a trooper, speaking like a native, singing like Noddy and eating greggs sausage rolls in no time!
      We dont do veggies round our way. People will start pointing at you and shielding there kids away.

    6. Charles Budd

      Ha ha! You have a way with words Martin! :-)

    7. Prime Decoration Russ Pike

      I got into teaching because of similar reasons to Martin. I had indentured my own son Jake into a CSkills Apprenticeship and felt that the training he was receiving wasn’t up to much, as with many employers who take on Apprentices its easy to put the blame on the Lecturers and say they’re not up to scratch, when the apprentice doesn’t seem to be making much progress! However, this is a big misconception: Its the employers responsibility to train, and us lecturers to guide and assess the competence of said apprentice. ‘Box ticking, not training’. Sadly that is how it is and how naïve was I to think I could change things and make a difference.

      The college I taught at had some of the most deprived families in Nottingham with students coming from 3rd generation unemployed; time keeping and work ethic was almost non existent! Many of the students were unemployed and were ‘attending’ college so not to loose benefits, only a small % of these were actually employed apprentices, the rest were studying Diploma’s not NVQs. I recall a few years back, Brian Davis asking me if I had any decent apprentices at college, as I know Brian and his standards, I could only think of 1 that might have the basic credentials Brian was looking for (Time keeping, politeness and willing to learn) I asked said apprentice if they fancied a 2 week trail and a golden opportunity, the reply I got was ‘Nah it will effect me benefits!!

      The whole apprenticeship system needs a massive kick up the Jax, from the people that write the curriculum, through to delivery, its quite scary!

      I really don’t know where we go from here Martin, its a tuff one and I wish you luck. Great, well written article btw, didn’t I already tell you that?

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