Plasterers and stucco masons learn their trade through formal and informal training programs. Most people learn this trade informally by starting out as helpers for experienced plasterers and stucco masons. Between 2 and 3 years of on-the-job training supplemented by formal classroom training may be required to become a skilled plasterer and stucco mason.
Preparation for a career as a plasterer or stucco mason can begin in high school, where classes in mathematics, mechanical drawing, and general shop are recommended. After high school, there are a number of different avenues that one can take to obtain the necessary training. The most common way is to obtain a job with a contractor who will provide on-the- job training. Entry-level workers generally start as helpers, assisting more experienced workers. They may start by carrying materials, setting up scaffolds, and mixing plaster. Later, they learn to apply the scratch, brown, and finish coats and may also learn to replicate plaster decorations for restoration work. Employers may enroll helpers in an employer-provided training program or send the employee to a trade or vocational school, or community college to receive further classroom training.
Although most employers recommend apprenticeship as the best way to learn plastering, apprenticeships for this occupation are few. Apprenticeship programs, sponsored by local joint committees of contractors and unions, generally consist of 2 or 3 years of on-the-job training, in addition to at least 144 hours annually of classroom instruction in drafting, blueprint reading, and mathematics for layout work.
In the classroom, apprentices start with a history of the trade and the industry. They also learn about the uses of plaster, estimating materials and costs, and casting ornamental plaster designs. On the job, they learn about lath bases, plaster mixes, methods of plastering, blueprint reading, and safety. They also learn how to use various tools, such as hand and powered trowels, floats, brushes, straightedges, power tools, plaster-mixing machines, and piston-type pumps. Some apprenticeship programs allow individuals to obtain training in related occupations, such as cement masonry and bricklaying.
Applicants for apprentice or helper jobs normally must be at least 18 years old, in good physical condition, and have good manual dexterity. Applicants who have a high school education are preferred. Courses in general mathematics, mechanical drawing, and shop provide a useful background.
With additional training and experience, plasterers and stucco masons may advance to positions as supervisors, superintendents, or estimators for plastering contractors. Many become self-employed contractors. Others become building inspectors.