Apprentices are nothing new in the hairdressing industry. Those who care for our hair have always opted to nurture their own talent, even when apprenticeships fell out of fashion in other industry sectors. If you’re running a hair salon, you probably started your career as an apprentice yourself.
And now the Government is prioritising apprenticeships in all areas, trying to improve the quality of vocational training, and making the apprentice route more attractive to school leavers. Their efforts appear to be working. There were almost 860,000 people on apprenticeships in England in 2012-13, 370,000 more than three years previously, according to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. But much current talk focuses on the new higher apprenticeship qualifications, a tier of vocational development introduced by David Cameron as an alternative to higher education. The intention is to move vocational training away from the traditional ‘craft apprenticeships’ and towards on-the-job training for professional level jobs.
Since hairdresser training is at intermediate and advanced apprentice levels, higher apprenticeships may seem like an irrelevance to many salon owners. But many of the 23,000 hairdressing and beauty salon businesses in the UK have reported renewed interest in apprenticeship training from young would-be recruits. While many of the young people flocking to apprenticeships are seeking the new higher level 4 route, applications are also increasing at levels 2 and 3.
The National Hairdressers’ Federation (NHF) recently applied to become one of the Government’s so-called trailblazers for apprenticeships, which would place it alongside other leading industry bodies in helping set future apprenticeship standards. Such an employer-led approach was one of the recommendations in the review of apprenticeships by former Dragons Den star Doug Richard earlier this year. Quality of training has long been an issue in the hairdressing industry. The NHF has been vocal in the need for the controlling authority for hairdresser training, Habia, and other awarding bodies to work together to create greater consistency in standards among new trainees. The president of the NHF, Mark Coray, has said: “Salon owners need to know what a trainee has covered on their course and what their qualification actually means. What we need is a standard, rigorous apprenticeship qualification that employers can have confidence in. You could have two young people with, on paper, the same qualification but, in reality, completely different skills or competencies, depending on where they did their training or which awarding body their provider chose.”
The Government is trying to help employers who want to train up their own workforce in more material ways. They’ve introduced the apprenticeship grant for employers, a scheme that offers smaller businesses £1,500 to take on their first apprentice aged between 16 and 24. This has seen 30,000 more companies opting to train up new, young talent. Admittedly, restrictions stipulating that a business must not have hired a new apprentice in the last 12 months have ruled out many hairdressers who already rely on apprentices to keep their salons running. Some hairdressing salons have one apprentice per qualified employee, and most have at least one on the floor at any one time. At the other extreme, some hairdressers have no apprentices at all, preferring to hire salon-ready staff. It is hoped that improvements in training combined with financial incentives may encourage this latter group to consider taking on apprentices for the first time. The fact remains that the industry remains highly dependent on a constant pipeline of well-trained apprentices and nascent talent.
The Government has also been undertaking a consultation on funding alternatives for apprentices. Salon owners have expressed some concern about the proposals for change and the three possible funding models. These are:
- Businesses register apprentices and are then paid the appropriate Government funding direct into their bank accounts. This also involves reporting claims for funding through a new online system.
- Business owners register apprentices through a new online system and then recover Government funding through their PAYE return.
- Government funding is paid direct to the training providers, much as happens at present, but the college can only access the money once they have also received the employer’s financial contribution towards the training.
Most hairdressers favour the third option, which is something close to the current system, according the NHF. Salon owners argue that the alternatives would involve too much extra paperwork and hassle. They also complain that they already often have to wait up to six months for training payments to be processed and fear that this situation could be worsened by some of the proposed changes.
Few of those running hairdressing businesses would dispute the value of apprentices to their operation. The National Apprenticeship Service estimates that 96 per cent of employers who take on an apprentice see benefits, and more than seven out of ten say productivity increases. But it is vital to the future health of the industry that the hairdressers of tomorrow are taught apprenticeships that are of the highest quality and consistent in their standards. As the late, great hairdressing legend Vidal Sassoon famously said: “To me, hairdressing means shape, therefore it’s very important the foundations be right.” One could say that the comment applies as much to the training for the job as the haircut itself.
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