This week is National Apprenticeship Week, and it got me thinking about my own hairdressing apprenticeship, 27 years ago. Back then, apprentices or 'Juniors' as we were known were given all the best jobs (!) hanging out wet towels, prepping hilighting caps (foils didn't exist back then) sorting perm rods by colour, and shampooing hair until our hands were red raw! It was a rite of passage to becoming a fully qualified hairstylist.
For me, a failed attempt at catering college, (the head chef told me to 'go and be a Hairdresser') was the awakening that I really did want to enter the world of hair. I stopped worrying I wouldn't be good enough and instead focused on the opportunity to be creative, super sociable, make people look and feel good whilst getting paid for the privilege. So after an interview, with a high-end salon called 'The Bamber Hair Institute', I secured a two-year apprenticeship with the promise of a job at the end if I made the cut. (excuse the pun) It's reputation as the best salon in Worcester wasn't for nothing, with top stylists, overbooked columns and prospective hairdressers throwing their CVs at the Salon Manager (no-one ever left).
Bambers' employed six apprentices including myself, and we were lucky to have a training school located in the Basement, which back then proved more popular than the city college. Local salons sent their apprentices in once a week to learn the ropes and the framework that is still NVQ level 2 in Hairdressing - We were guided and gently let loose on live models (our friends and family were coaxed in for us to practice) learning the fundamentals of basic cuts, perming (most popular service back then), blow dries, colouring, hi-lights, barbering and roller-sets. I still remember the first time I cut a head block, visibly shaking like a leaf.
Where it all began for me in 1993! Drawing faces was never a strength.
The staff room was filled with 'Just 17' magazines, Silk Cut (everyone smoked back then) and chocolate - some things never change. We seemed to giggle our way through those two years, until final assessment day, where it was all quite serious for a bit whilst we showcased our work, demonstrating every element of our learning. I passed with a distinction!
I guess looking back, I didn't actively choose hairdressing, it chose me. For Generation Z colloquially known as Zoomers, there are many career options on offer with much emphasis on academic and digital career pathways. I am not knocking this, but given that Hairdressing ranks in the top 5 happiest careers time and time again, why wouldn't you actively chose hairdressing as a career?
Action shot! Always having a giggle at work
Make no mistake, those who think hairdressing is 'just doing hair', are out of touch. The industry has changed beyond recognition since my apprenticeship days, from a plethora of creative colouring techniques, product knowledge, extensions, wig making, trichology, financials, accounting, marketing & PR, social media & content creation, photography, stock control, diary management and collaborations, just to name a few! Throw into the mix the different work settings on offer such as freelance, salon, TV & Film, editorial, bridal, educator, and you have a rich and diverse career offering.
Finally, its worth mentioning that everyone needs a hairdresser. This last 12 months has demonstrated how much the hair industry has been missed (and we all quietly breathed a sign of relief, seeing the national lockdown DIY hair efforts!) The world of hairdressing brings community, support, immense job satisfaction and lifelong learning. Need any more persuasion? Choose your career, Choose Hair.
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Nicky McKenzie Hair is a solo home salon owner living in Farnham, Surrey with her family and favourite salon pooch Mr. Pickles.