The Pros & Cons of Hiring Student Painters
Updated: Jan 7
If you are reading this article, chances are you probably just had a student painter knock at your door, offering you a free painting estimate. Having started my painting career in 2012 with a student painting company (College Pro Painters), I would like to provide insight into Toronto student painting companies and the pros & cons of dealing with them.
What Are Student Painting Companies?
Student painting companies such as College Pro, Student Works and Scholars At Your Service, are franchises that recruit university students to run painting franchises during the spring and summer. The term "Student Painter" refers to a university/college student who paints, not an apprentice painter learning the trade. Though the franchisees and painters tend to be students, this is not always the case. For example, when I ran a franchise with College Pro Painters in 2012, some franchisees and painters were not students; they were there because the money was good.
How Do Student Painting Companies Work?
Like most franchises, the franchisee pays a royalty to the company. In 2012, I was paying up to 24% of my revenue to College Pro Painters (I believe the other companies had the same royalty). In exchange, the company allowed me to operate under their name in a specific neighbourhood (Leaside). Training was provided on how to get projects, price them and eventually paint them. Unfortunately, the training provided was minimal (my training was a 3-day exterior painting project), and then I was sent off into the wild to continue training on other customers' houses. The franchisees are responsible for hiring and training their own painters (based on the single 3-day project). Often these student painters are their friends or other students who have never painted before. With that being said, some student painters and franchisees continue to paint and have more experience.
Pros & Cons of Hiring Student Painters
Student painters are more affordable compared to professional painters (but not always)
In 2012, the minimum wage in Ontario was approximately $11/hr. College Pro franchisees in Toronto were instructed to charge around $35/hr. At the time, professional painters typically charged around $40. However, the efficiency and expertise of a professional painter mean they may actually budget fewer hours, thus charging less than student painters (usually not the case).
Hiring student painters help them earn their tuition (but not always)
Student painters typically get paid minimum wage or $1-2 more than that. Though this may not be very impressive, the long hours in construction permit students to earn more than jobs such as retail. However, the franchisees are not paid hourly; their earnings depend on how well their business performs. As a former franchisee, I profited about $15,000 that summer while my student painters each took home $5,000-$6,000. Many of my colleagues worked all summer only to lose money.
The work quality may be good if the crew is somewhat experienced
Some student painters continue to paint year after year. Some franchisees choose to hire experienced painters instead of students. If you stumble across these more experienced crews, the work quality could be good.
Student painters tend to be pleasant to deal with
Student painters generally make up for lack of experience with enthusiasm and try to fix their mistakes. When I was new to painting, I knew that I had to provide excellent customer service to cover up my lack of experience. As such, I had no hesitations when customers asked for touch-ups or little extras.
A large chunk of the price goes to paying royalties
In 2012, I paid up to 24% of my revenue to the franchise. This was regardless of whether or not I profited. Depending on your reason for hiring student painters, homeowners should be aware that a large chunk of your project cost goes to the franchise and that the students may not necessarily make money.
Student painters are usually inexperienced or have under 2 years of experience
Most franchisees end up hiring their friends or other students who have never painted before. A student painter rarely has more than 2 years of experience because they eventually graduate (hopefully) and accept positions related to their studies. The quality of the paint jobs usually reflects this lack of experience.
You risk your home being a "training house"
Student painters learn how to paint on the job. My training in 2012 was a 3-day exterior project on some poor schmuck's house. I then trained my painters on other people's houses based on what I learned during those 3 days. Though everything turned out fine, it could be risky if no one on-site has any experience.
The finished product will probably not look as good compared to that of a professional painter
Student painters are taught the generic formula of scraping, sanding, priming and painting. Then, they apply this process to every project, whether an old home or a new custom home. On the other hand, a professional painter will be able to determine your specific needs and adjust their services to provide skim coating, paint stripping or surface preparation for fine finishes if that is what you desire.
Hiring student painters can save you money while getting you a good product and supporting local students. However, you should do your due diligence and ensure that the crew you are working with has enough experience and that the task is not too difficult. Old exterior painting projects are usually suited for student painters. As long as high-quality products are being used and the areas are far away enough, you won't likely have much to complain about for the price. However, you should avoid using student painters for jobs where aesthetic quality is the focus. For instance, projects involving semi-transparent decks, interior painting, and spraying trim are all projects where you should definitely hire a professional painter.