Finding (and keeping) hard-working qualified nail technicians is one of the most pressing issues facing the beauty industry today. When the nail business is at an all-time high, we find ourselves asking what factors are contributing to this industry dilemma. It is time for us to stop asking, “Why?” and start asking, “What can we do to solve this problem?”
Worried that you can’t find enough employees to staff your salon? Wondering why it seems like too many nail technicians are leaving and too few new people are entering the industry? Why, when the business of nails is at an all-time high of $6.4 billion, are salon owners across the nation having so much trouble finding and retaining nail techs? If there were 324,081 nail licensees in 1999 how come you can’t find a few of them?
The answer is not simple. It’s comforting that businesses across the country are facing the same worker shortage the salon industry is, but there are some specific issues that we face alone that are causing us to lose (or at least not attract) new talent to our industry. The key to winning them over are the things that make the industry great: flexibility and creativity.
“Salon owners may feel like this problem is unique to the nail or even the beauty industry, but it’s simply not so,” says John Caspole, president of The Assessment Specialists, a Carlsbad, Calif., company that works with companies to help them recruit, interview, and hire employees, specializing in the professional beauty industry. “Unemployment is at a 40-year low. The unemployment rate in San Diego, for example, is 2%, and in Silicon Valley it’s 1.2%.
“I think that one of the reasons that it is felt so acutely in the beauty industry is because people are actually leaving this industry for opportunities that they perceive as being better,” he continues. “There are jobs available that offer guaranteed salaries and better benefits, and I believe that the beauty industry is losing some of its people because of this.”
The reasons nail technicians leave the industry are many, and some of the reasons are not easily fixed. But looking at the reasons many professionals leave the field points us in the direction of possible ways to keep the people still committed to nail care, and, hopefully, attract others who are currently deciding their career direction. After all, if we are losing qualified people to fields that allow them to make better money, have greater flexibility, and balance home and family life better, then what can be done to rectify that? Just as salon owners have to aggressively market their salons for potential customers, they must also market their salons as a place where nail professionals really want to work.
NAILS talked to all categories of people involved in the nail industry, from salon owners and techs, to school operators, distributors, manufacturers, association leaders, and other people whose livelihood depends on the professional beauty industry. We heard many dissertations on what’s wrong with the industry and why people are leaving, and in the process gleaned many ways of getting people to come in – and stay in. We’ve put together a list a creative solutions to the worker shortage, some obvious, some far-fetched. After all, if there are no techs to supply the demand for nail care services, there’s no need for products (and their manufacturers), associations (and their members), or even education (which means no need for teachers and schools and, gasp, trade magazines).
Expectations Are Not Being Met
According to some industry professionals, it all begins with what is taught in the schools. “Nail students are not getting enough hands-on experience in school,” says Terri Taricco, corporate manager of R.G. Shakour in Westboro, Mass. “Often, schools hire a hairdresser with a teaching certificate who has never even done nails to teach nail students. And they read right out of the book.”
And the reason Taricco is concerned is a valid one. “No one has total these new techs what to expect,” she says. “Schools act like they have taught them everything while they really haven’t. No one has actually told these students that they are not going to know everything. They are not prepared for what they will encounter right off the bat in a salon.” And what they will encounter, according to Taricco, is that they will not necessarily do great nails right out of school. So customers get discouraged and the salon owner gets discouraged and the new tech, who is not getting enough hands on training in school, gets discouraged and leaves the industry.
A wholesale restructuring of the educational system is an option many would like implemented, but presently, it’s not practical. Another option is for salon owners and nail techs to take education into their own hands. “When I had my own salon I was forced to hire people and train them myself,” says Taricco. “The first place where we can do better is in the schools. They have a chance to formulate a mind. We have made the profession more than just manicuring, and the schools, for the most part, are not keeping up with the industry.”
Shari Finger, owner of Finger’s Nail Studios in Dundee, Ill., starts new techs out with her customized training program, which begins with the basics – no matter how experienced the tech is. All nail techs at Finger’s Nail Studios start off as junior techs, but Finger is quick to note that if the tech has the skills and the experience, she will move up to senior tech more quickly.
Finger knows that sometimes a newbie simply needs support as much as technical training: “A lot of times we lose people who are new to the industry because they go work at a hair salon and they fail because they don’t have the knowledge and the confidence to deal with every situation. And they are not surrounded by people who can offer support.” Finger offers new employees the opportunity to work with senior techs in a one on one environment. “Our senior techs really work as mentors with the junior techs,” says Finger, “If this support is not available at the nail tech’s workplace, I think that it is important that she find someone who she can build a relationship with to be able to go to for support and help.”
If it were up to Taricco, hair salons wouldn’t even be able to hire newly licensed nail techs. “Hair salons simply don’t have the knowledge of previous experiences to draw from, and there are no other nail techs there to help new people,” she says. Taricco urges techs who are need of support, mentors, and continuing education to look on the Internet. There are a variety of sites that offer chart rooms for nail technicians to network and ask questions. She has also started a website (www.beautyhelpwanted.com) that offers help wanted listings for salons and nail technicians.
“We need to clean up the schools,” says new salon owner Michael Wolper, whose Hands On salon (with partner Tony Wootton) in Beverly Hills, Calif., was opened to much fanfare last year. Wolper attended nail school himself despite the fact that he wouldn’t be doing nails, and h felt the pains firsthand of cosmetology school, he says. “We need to make the business of nails more professional. Right now, at least where I was, nail students are treated like second-tier students next to the hair students. Schools need to treat nail students like they are a little more special.”
So what can you do? First of all, get involved with the schools in your area. Offer a mentoring program or an apprenticeship program. Alert your area schools hat you are willing to work with students or talk to them about certain areas that are not covered in school. Offer to come in and talk to students about real-life issues that they will face one they get their license and their first job. “Salon owners can participate in internship programs with schools,” says Trisha Trackman, president of the Illinois Nail Tech Association. Illinois state board representative for nail technology, and owner of Trisha’s Ltd. salon in Highland Park, Ill., noting that this can also help the students feel more secure about the opportunities that are out there. If salon owners are willing to come in and take the time to talk to the students, they will remember that and feel more comfortable approaching the owner when they are looking for a job.
“Schools need to make students aware of who, in their area, they can go to for additional training and resources,” says Taricco. This can be as asset, not only for the schools and the students, but for the salon owner as well. By making yourself available as a mentor or a resource, you present your salon to future nail techs as a place where the can go and feel safe and comfortable.
Developing cooperative relationships with the schools in your area can help them become your greatest resource. Hands On sponsored the nail program at the local Santa Monica City College, and has shown the school that they are a salon willing to actively participate in the educational process. “We offer scholarships, donate tools and equipment, and the school offers Hands On-level training,” say Wolper. And in turn, the salon becomes well known among the students as a salon willing to invest in its future employees. “We’ve had students come work as interns at the salon, and we have even hired two of our technicians this way.”
Finger is also active in her local schools. “I have gone into schools to teach classes for no monetary compensation just so that I could get in touch with the students,” she says, noting that this method has had some success in meeting potential new hires.
Professional trade associations are even getting involved to help marry the two groups – salon owners and schools. Recently, board members of the American Association of Cosmetology Schools (AACS) and The Salon Association (TSA) met to discuss ways to partner and ensure that schools produce the most prepared entry-level candidates. The salons, in turn, help those graduates continue on a successful path in their field. President of the TSA, Frank Zona, commented on the need for collaboration: “The bottom line is that if we really want to move the industry forward, we all need to understand that employers must be actively involved in the development of the workforce.” That means working with the schools.
Image Is Everything
One thing that comes up time and time again is that the public image of nail technicians needs a boost. Although not universally true, nail techs do get a bad rap today. Doing nails is not often thought of as a true profession. What is the point of even worrying about what the students are learning in schools if we cannot even get new students into the schools in the first place?