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Apprenticeships

March 15, 2024

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships

The TikTok Trolls got themselves into a tizzy over my use of assistants. I was accused of using them as slaves, human hair clips, that I had them for ornaments to massage my ego, that it was so awful for viewers to see that they must have been watching a parody sketch. Haha!

I started hairdressing when apprenticeships dominated the industry. 50 years before that, parents were paying salon owners to take their child on as an apprentice. For sure there must have been many examples of exploitation, slavery and abuse. The Government took over from the 1970s gradually destroying the apprenticeship concept in favour of college teaching and the back up of NVQs (also nicknamed Not Very Qualified).

Fast forward 30 years and in most industries the Government is coming to realise that saddling students with huge debt, and having been educated by teachers that had often failed commercially themselves (not always) isn’t working too well. Apprenticeships are being welcomed back in all sorts of industries including the higher professions of law and medicine.

If you want to develop a student to be commercially successful (consistently pleasing their clients and paying their taxes) it’s probably better that they pick up skills from people doing just that.

I’ve studied hairdressing education since the 1970s and the Government policies that tried to deal with it (often just to make the unemployment figures look better), and I can honestly say that the average hairdressers today lack the necessary 'vision' and 'feel' to do hair well. Why would that be a surprise when a skill that is akin to a performing art needing a very high level of creative and technical dexterity, is reduced to a paper-chase of certification.

Some colleges graduate NVQ stylists onto the unsuspecting public without them ever having touched a human head. All paperwork, whiteboard lectures and practical work on dollyheads. Of course they will lack sensitivity or bedside manner. It’s an intimate physical art, personable and social as well as being creative and technical.

I want my apprentice in full union with my work. Keeping apprentices away says more about the stylists inability to develop them. Students didn’t sign up to a life of sweeping floors and making lukewarm coffee in the back room. How will they learn to be with clients, read them and communicate together, give them the best personal service if they’re not fully involved in the whole process.

More than anything my teaching work involves getting students to learn how to see and how to feel. Assisting, holding hair, holding dryers, listening to conversation. Watching the flow of work embodies that learning at a deeper level than what is understood by muscle memory.

Tell me, and I may listen;
Show me and I may remember;
Involve me, and I will understand.

Whilst some unenlightened hairdressers see this as slavery, or think it’s for show, our award-winning training programme shows it’s the quickest route to successful independence and autonomy. Those ‘slave hair clips’ are often blowdrying those very clients they assist me on within six months. Some clients then see them every week.

By year two of their apprenticeship they are earning more than the average UK hairdresser (and debt free) as they develop their own clientele and assist less.

At the end of year 3 they will graduate with 25-40 clients a week already in their column, as they've been building their clientele from day one. Not a fearful cliff-edge change from apprentice to stylist, but a smooth transition and part of their continual learning and mastery.

I've helped develop hundreds of apprentices into successful hairstylists, many going on to run their own businesses and develop their apprentices. A virtuous cycle of paying forward in the apprentice master relationship.

 Michael Van Clarke





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