Everyday Masterpieces with British Gypsum: Highlighting Britain’s Plasterers (Part One)

Everyday Masterpieces with British Gypsum: Highlighting Britain’s Plasterers (Part One)

As British Gypsum celebrates 100 years in the industry it wants to champion the trade and has been out on the road meeting some of the unsung plastering heroes. British Gypsum catches up with fifth generation plasterer Mark Hardman.

Key facts
Name and company: Mark Hardman – Mark Hardman Plastering
Years in the trade: 36
Location: Cheshire
Type of work: Mainly domestic, some commercial
Favourite trowel: Marshalltown Permaflex Finishing Trowel
Favourite plaster: Thistle Board Finish/Thistle DuraFinish
Favourite radio station: Smooth Extra (no talking, just music)
Best price to skim 3m² ceiling: £130

My career in plastering started when I was at school and wanted to save for a pair of Doc Martin boots. I would help my dad at weekends and during the school holidays even though I couldn’t lift the then 50kg bags of plaster.

My granddad said to me “if you stick at it, you will be the fifth generation” and I’m glad to say I have. I started my apprenticeship in 1981 at the age of 16 at the Manchester College of Building and worked for my father for 10 years until he passed away. I then took the decision to become self-employed and haven’t looked back since.

Plastering is a fantastic trade to work in; the work is so varied and no two days are the same. One day you can be boarding and skimming a luxury modern apartment and the next be carrying out fibrous restoration work or external rendering – every material and background is different.

On this job – an extensive domestic renovation – I’ve been using Thistle DuraFinish plaster in a busy area, which is quickly becoming one of my new favourite plasters. It’s really easy to use and applies like any normal finishing plaster, yet it’s 60 per cent more resistant to impact damage.

Unique performance plasters are an exciting new part of the trade and in my opinion a great way to build trust and a better reputation with customers. Showing your knowledge of the various products available and suggesting different plasters for different applications shows customers that you know what you’re talking about and that you genuinely want to help them to create the best spaces available.

To be a successful plasterer you have to be a people person. People make a judgement about you and your character well before they judge you on your work, so presentation and communication is key. And over the years, this presentation has needed to increasingly transfer online with many younger customers now ‘Googling’ you before they make contact.

Attention to detail is also crucial and this extends beyond your own work. Having a background-knowledge of the other trades that go before and follow you will pay dividends. Being considerate will not only help get the job done quicker but will mean you make more friends along the way. And in the trade we all look after our friends so you’re more likely to get recommended on the next job if you worked well together on the last.

Plastering is a physically demanding job and is not for the fainthearted. Particularly when I first started and you were mixing by hand and lugging the 50kg bags around, the trade took a real toll on your body.

Modern tools have made a real improvement but it’s still a tough job. My advice is to observe good manual handling techniques and keep yourself supple – I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t have to kill yourself to earn a wage.

The future of the industry looks bright to me and there’s plenty of work available. What I have seen in my time is that there is a growing trend towards tradespeople specialising in specific areas, whether that be rendering, skimming or jointing and taping etc. I wouldn’t say there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just different to the way I have traditionally worked. I think, as long as people are trained across the disciplines to begin with and then specialise there’s no harm done.

I would say the skills shortage has affected the plastering industry as, at times, I’ve found it difficult to find good quality apprentices. My advice to anyone looking for an apprentice is to speak to your local building college, they’ve been a great help to me and they won’t recommend anyone who’s not showing promise and dedication.

I’ve had a number through the colleges and although the candidates perhaps haven’t had great academic skills they’ve always put forward those that have been turning up every week and that have really good dextrous ability.

As an employer, my advice to any apprentice looking for their first job is to enrol in a college, go for the highest qualification you can and read as many trade magazines, newsletters etc. as possible. If you can show a level of product and practical knowledge above the average Joe in the street then you’ve got a decent head start.

As a fifth generation plasterer, Mark Hardman is a fantastic example of the dedication found in the plastering trade. Look out for British Gypsum’s next interview in the next issue.

For more information about Mark Hardman visit www.plasterer-cheshire.co.uk

For more information about British Gypsum, or to become a member of British Gypsum’s Certified Plasterers Scheme click here.

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