By Anthony Dynar

     While coming across Tabatha , I realized once again the true value of apprenticeships. The salon industry, I think, isn’t utilizing the full potential of apprenticeships. Of course, there are “apprenticeships” at some grade A salons where a cosmetologist with years of experience will often work as an apprentice of a recognized stylist in the salon industry to eventually (and hopefully) get a chair at the salon. But I am not talking of these apprenticeships. Apprenticeships, the ones that I am talking about, are underpaid, mostly unpaid, positions where cosmetology school students work under the supervision of licensed professionals in order to learn the trade. Above all, such apprenticeships are not work experience but learning experience. They aren’t intended to earn the student money, but are opportunities to learn.

     What do cosmetology school apprenticeships look like? When I was in cosmetology school, the school had its own salon where students worked unpaid. Due to the demographics of the location, we mostly did perms and shampoo sets day in and day out. There was an occasional haircut. Rarer still were clients who wanted their hair colored. Unheard of were clients that wanted temporary dreads or their hair braided—things that a cosmetologist is supposed to know. My apprenticeship did not prepare me to become a professional. My school did not prepare me to be a cosmetologist; it prepared me to pass the state board licensing exam.

     My true education started only after I became a licensed cosmetologist. When you see your client’s hair going green when she wanted bronze, you have to think on your feet to fix the color in the shampoo bowl. Or when you get a call from a client that wants to have temporary dreads, you need to be prepared to say with confidence that yes, you can do temporary dreads. My school was an unofficial Paul Mitchell focus school. They did not teach you how to use other product lines. But my second salon job out of school was at a Redken focus salon. My school hadn’t prepared me to deal with the Redken product line and I had to learn it at the salon, and learn it quickly.

     I learned by watching instructional videos. I pestered cosmetologists who had more experience than I with questions until I learned something new and useful. I stuck with it. I still stick with it. There are no shortcuts but to continue educating oneself. And that’s why I decided to launch continuing education instructional videos on Enlightened Hair—so that young cosmetologists with a thirst for knowledge will have the means to quench it.

     I digress. The point is, apprenticeships don’t nearly give you the education that you hope to get after spending $20,000 on cosmetology school. Sure enough, I didn’t go to the Vidal Sassoon Academy. They produce A list stylists like Tabatha Coffee because their apprenticeships give them the variety of learning experience that the vast majority of us didn’t get. After all, I went to cosmetology school in a snowbird roosting town in Arizona.

     Sure enough, a majority of us may not want variety of experience. We may want to focus on the demographics of the area we live in. We may want the certainty of steady income over the uncertainty of experimentation. After all, the demographics of the clientele in the area in which you intend to work dictates what a cosmetologist will be doing for most of their days every day. So, if your demographics want perms and shampoo sets, you better be good at them in order to get steady income. But for those of us who want to experiment, an apprenticeship is of little help.

     One solution is for schools to allow students to seek apprenticeships outside of the school. If I had that opportunity, I would have sought out the best salon I could find in an area where you expect more client variety. Salons won’t have to pay the student. Cosmetology schools may be able to give the student school credits for apprenticing at a salon. It would be in the best interest of the student. Every other vocational industry I know of has an established pattern of such apprenticeships—externships or internships, some trades call them. Why, then, not the cosmetology industry? Why does the salon industry restrict the places where a student can apprentice?

 

     What do you think is the value of an apprenticeship? Is there any other solution to the problem of apprenticeships that I outlined above?