Mike Brown never planned to work in the drywall business. Never much interested in the four-year-degree path during and after high school, he mainly majored in “hard work.”
Throughout those years, he worked at a cider mill making donuts, he labored at a machine shop, he loaded trucks for a Pepsi Cola distributor, and he worked on cars.
Finally, when he was 21, he was working for an excavating company. As always, he was fine with the hard work. What he wasn’t so fine with was working outside, he discovered.
“I didn’t care to work outside in winter,” he says, “so during my lunch breaks, I went over to a nearby subdivision that was going up at the time. I watched the drywall guys and thought, ‘They’re inside and nice and warm, and complaining about their $800 paychecks, compared to my $300 paycheck.”
This was back in 1978, so the money was half past decent, for sure. Mike grabbed a phone book and started calling every drywall business listed. Each of these employers first asked Mike if he had any drywalling experience. When he answered, “No,” that was the end of the conversation.
“So, when I called the last one, I lied,” Mike confesses. “I said I had helped my dad drywall our basement.”
It worked. He was hired.
Learn more about a career as a drywall installer.
Nice Try, Now Train As A Drywall Installer
He didn’t get away with his white lie for long. When he and the employer met, the employer asked about Mike’s tools—you know, your utility knife, drywall square, mud pan, sanding blocks, dust masks, right?
Ahhhh, no, Mike had to reply.
“He looked down and just shook his head,” Mike recalls. But Mike lucked out. This gentleman needed workers, so he agreed to train him.
It was definitely start-at-the-bottom training, Mike says. “I was making $3.50, instead of the seven bucks an hour the trained workers were making. I was just a gopher, and then I was mixing mud, and hauling water. Finally, they let me hit the nails, and paint closets.
“It took me two years to finally learn the trade.”
Construction Trades Are A Labor Of Love
Mike also learned at the time that he liked this work, chalk dust notwithstanding. Sure, it was physically hard hauling around that drywall, putting it up, and doing all the touch up work to make it look like a wall.
But, Mike says, “I got satisfaction out of turning somebody’s unfinished walls into something they can paint and enjoy. I also did a lot of repairs. It felt good to cut a hole in someone’s ceiling to repair it and replacing it with a piece so one knew it ever needed repair.”
Such is the pride of the professional tradesman. Mike has been transforming people’s rooms for 41 years. He joined the ranks of dedicated drywallers who make quite an income, yes, a v-e-r-y good income.
Unfortunately, “people look at the trades as ‘dummy jobs,’” Mike says. “It means you weren’t smart enough to go to college. But that’s not true. People can make up to $100,000 or more a year—if they want to work.”
Mike has made that much—and more than twice that much.
Unfortunately, these numbers aren’t enough to attract enough new recruits. Mike echoes other people in the trades—and in other careers—when he says too many younger folks simply don’t want to work hard.
Stick With It: Drywalling Is Good For Women, Men
But some do, and for those attracted by the idea of drywalling, Mike says there’s a lot of incentive.
“If you’re willing to work, stick with it. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder. Women can do this work. But you must be willing to learn, take the time to do it right.”
Six months isn’t enough time—which is proven over and over when young workers learn from Mike and then “go out on their own” after six months.
“Unfortunately, they’re just screwing themselves. People hire them, they don’t know how to price a job, do the job, so they mess it up—and then they call me.”
So, stick with it, and the rewards will follow, Mike says. He has lived his own advice under some pretty difficult circumstances.
About twenty years ago, his left leg had to be amputated due to a blocked artery. Did that end his physically demanding career? Of course not.
He was able to keep working. He was able to prosper in this field. He established his own drywalling business and was able to buy a historic farmhouse and two barns on 10 acres out in the country. He has raised three children and enjoys a nice life.
So, it turns out drywalling is a viable trade choice for all kinds of people. It will remain—at least until people decide they don’t want walls anymore.
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