The Next Generation

Retain talented painters by investing in their careers

Two of the biggest challenges facing painting business owners are how to recruit talented young painters and how to keep them once you do. But both problems can be solved by developing a strong culture of mentorship within your organization.

Every veteran painter first began as an inexperienced rookie, learning the basics of the trade from someone else. A team that commits to training up new painters with potential will quickly grow in size and talent. Likewise, leadership that offers experienced painters a path forward—through specialized training, mentorship, and opportunities for career advancement—will see less employee turnover. That team consistency, when combined with quality training, will result in greater productivity for your team.

So how can you start building a culture that creates opportunities for the next generation of painters to step up? Industry experts recommend these three steps.

Invest in Employee Education

Experienced painters can be hard to find on the open job market, but thanks to a wealth of existing educational resources, you can start training new painters to become your company’s future leaders.

Graco, Titan, Sherwin-Williams, and the Painting Contractors Association (PCA) all offer introductory training video series designed to help new painters quickly learn the essentials and get to work on the jobsite. But even experienced painters can benefit from educational resources and training.

“More than half of the painting businesses in the market are small, with one to ten employees,” says Titan’s Mike Collins. “Most don’t have a formal path for advancing within the business. In corporate America, you can see where you’re going at a company, and when there’s no path for advancement, some leave to go elsewhere. In the painting business, training can help quantify their experience and qualifications when it comes to promotions and compensation, which in turn will help business owners retain their talented employees longer.”

Sherwin-Williams recently launched the PRO+ Training Series, a series of webinars designed specifically to help pro painters develop important leadership skills that are necessary to grow a business. Current and future webinars will cover topics like social media, job estimating, recruitment, and building company culture. Watching these webinars with your team can be a great way to develop their talents and show you’re investing in their future as a leader.

“We wanted to offer something to our customers that would help them grow their business acumen so they can be as successful as possible,” says Christine Rich, Sherwin-Williams Residential Repaint Marketing Director and co-host of the series. “If we can share information, we all get smarter and better together.”

David Cook, owner of D’franco Painting & Wallpaper in Huntley, Illinois, and one of the speakers in the “Marketing 101” webinar, encourages cultivating an attitude of humility and curiosity among your team.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Cook says, adding, “If it’s going to help my family, if it’s going to help our employees, if it’s going to help my customers, I’ll ask the dumb question. No one is going to think anything less of you if you ask a dumb question, because all it’s going to do is help you improve.”

Offer a Path Forward

Why do painters eventually leave a company? If you currently own your own painting business or are self-employed, you probably know from firsthand experience.

In simplest terms, painters leave because they see greater potential and opportunity by striking out on their own than by staying at their current company. Maybe that’s because they don’t see any path to promotion or eventually becoming the boss. Maybe that’s because they think they can get better money or benefits elsewhere. Maybe they feel their talents aren’t being properly utilized.

Part of good mentoring is finding out the dreams and motivations of the people on your team, and helping them to create a plan to achieve those goals.

If one of your painters is great at logistics and project management, perhaps you can share your own experiences with them and help them develop those skills so they can one day be a manager or overseer on jobsites. An employee who’s gifted at client relationships might help you put together a bid for an upcoming job. Your most technically sound painter might be put in charge of training all incoming recruits—with a title and/or pay raise to reflect their newfound responsibilities.

Whatever their goals are, empower them to take the lead in their area.

“The best way to empower someone is to give very high direction on their role/task,” says Alex Calouf of Aleph Holdings. “It’s crucial to give them a lot of coaching followed by support—to acknowledge that humans are not self-directed, and we all occasionally need some guidance.”

Show employees that you recognize their talents, want to help them become even better, and will reward that progress with promotions and advancement. The financial costs of doing so will almost certainly be outweighed by the improved productivity and team morale you’ll gain in return.

“Every quarter, we meet with each person to check on how they feel they are tracking and how else we can support them,” says Calouf. “This has created a strong bond and coaching relationship, and helps them know we truly care. If we’re off track, it gives us a chance to realign and get back on the right track together.”

Sean Nash is the President of W.W. Nash & Sons, Inc., a multigenerational painting business first founded by his grandfather in 1946. He says the hallmark of building a business that will last for decades is healthy communication and collaboration between current leaders and the next generation.

“It’s all about trust—the willingness to share knowledge, financial openness with one another, and a deep foundation and investment in our personal lives,” Nash says. “Our seniors have learned lessons and laid a strong foundation that we don’t have to struggle to establish. Seniors let us ‘drive’ before selling and are always ready to give advice but not interfere.”

Join a Painting Community

Another way to encourage mentorship—especially if this is an area that you personally struggle with—is to join communities that promote mentoring and lifelong learning. The PCA, which was formed to help painters run efficient and profitable businesses, is a great place to network and learn from painters with more experience than you. The organization offers paint and business training, as well as an apprenticeship program, virtual peer groups, and in-person events and meetings.

“If you’re an up-and-coming painter and you want to better yourself, you’re going to find the best servant leaders in the PCA,” says Jason Paris, Founder of Paris Painting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Chair of PCA’s Board of Directors. “Coming to one of the PCA Expos is a great place to meet those people and establish a mentoring relationship.”

Many contractors in the PCA are not only looking to get professional development from someone, but are looking to impart that to the next generation.

“In the early stages of being a painter, you’re taking. You’re learning a lot of information,” says Chad Schirmer, PCA’s Creative Director. “But then as your business grows and matures, that’s when you can serve. You can give back. There’s no shortage of that in the PCA. A lot of our members are so happy because they’re living the American dream. They’re their own boss now, and they want to help others achieve the same thing.”


While mentorship is an important part of building a business that will last, it doesn’t happen by accident. Building that culture takes intentionality.

“Be proud of your work, and teach, teach, teach,” Nash says. “Don’t assume other generations learn by osmosis.”

Yet the fruits of this hard work are undeniable. Finding ways to mentor now can not only lead to better productivity and employee relationships in the short term, but to retention of your best painters for many years and a long, profitable future for your company.