Apprentice programs give new nail technicians what formal school training leaves out in many states: hands-on experience. Whether replacing or augmenting classroom instruction, apprentice programs could be the answer to today’s educational shortcomings.
With funding and regulation for nail education threatened, salon owners and nail technicians are lamenting the inadequate training professionals receive in school. Many think apprenticeship programs for nail training are a natural solution.
To make matters worse, state governments are regularly reviewing not only the value of state boards, but also licensing and regulating the beauty industry in general. Therefore, legislative efforts to do away with state boards completely are a constant threat to licensing.
If federal and state governments are considering cuts in funding for cosmetology programs and doing away with licensing or other state regulations, how will the industry continue to infuse itself with trained workers? As these issues continue to gain prominence, one answer may be apprentice programs.
Apprenticeships are a well-accepted form of education for teaching the specific skills of a trade or craft. The beauty industry is not the only one with such programs. They have a rich history in the U.S. and other countries as a supplement or replacement for trade schooling or on-the-job training for electricians, printers, metal craftsmen, painters, and plumbers, among others.
"The reason I advocate apprenticeships is because we would attract more people to the industry who could start working as nail technicians right away, says Max Matteson, vice president of the Cosmetology Advancement Foundation (CAP). "It would also help lower the attrition rate, would immediately put workers in salons that are short of help, and the hands-on training is extremely valuable."
Several different types of apprentice programs exist in the nail industry today. Some states have apprenticeship programs run in the true-definition of the word — they bypass classroom training completely, but require double the hours of salon training that are required through school programs. For those who may not be able to afford classroom training, some states allow them to learn by working in the salon to accumulate a specified number of hours, then apply to take their state board exam. Another type of program is offered in cooperation with formal nail technology classes. The student receives part oilier training outside of the classroom under the direction of a licensed nail technician and is able to observe network style and client rapport.
Although only 12 states currently have one, the programs are flourishing. They can help close the gap between school and real salon work. The benefit of apprentice programs is that salon owners are generally assured of getting competent, ready-trained nail technicians, while the newly licensed technicians are able to go right to work.
Apprenticeships can answer the industry's need for better education by reducing professional turnover, insist some industry experts. They claim that such programs give nail technicians the one-on-one training they need to be successful. Apprenticeships may also help financially to allow some students to earn tips or receive payment as they learn.
Still, apprentice programs do have their critics. School administrators, nail technicians, and state board members point out that some apprentices become "salon slaves"— unpaid students who do janitorial work and learn very little about servicing clients.
Since most apprentices are not allowed to work on clients right away, they are by nature subject to more salon chores. Sweeping up, cleaning stations, emptying trash cans, answering phones, and other non-service related duties are relegated to the "new kid on the block" more readily than a licensed technician.
Another reason the programs are criticized is because already overburdened state agencies can't ensure that the training every apprentice receives from each salon mentor is consistent and meets standards that would theoretically be achieved through schooling.
How Do Apprentices Qualify?
Each of the states with apprentice programs has separate methods for determining what qualifies an apprentice to earn her stripes in a salon. Georgia, Maryland, and Michigan require a ninth-grade education to qualify for the state's apprentice program; Missouri, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma must see a high school diploma from apprenticeship applicants. "You probably wouldn't be comfortable with a hairstylist perming your hair who can't read the directions on the box," says Matteson. "Basic skills, such as reading, writing, and math are needed to be a successful cosmetologist or nail technician."
Several stales also impose age requirements on potential apprentices: In Maryland, you must be 17 years old or hold a valid work permit, while New Hampshire and Vermont require the apprentice to be 18 years old. However, Alabama, Delaware and Hawaii have no age or education requirements for potential apprentices.
While schooling is expensive, apprenticeships are not free. In every state, some fee is levied on the apprentice, usually between $5 and $50. There are also associated costs once the apprentice begins. Who pays for her products and training downtime? Usually the salon does.
Since many apprentices are not able to work another job while going to school or may not be allowed to work out clients, their income is usually very low. Therefore, asking the apprentice to help supplement the costs associated with her training doesn't make sense for many salons. Some states even require salons to pay fees in order to have the program in the first place, especially if it requires an inspector to spend time screening the salon before validating its program.
In Michigan, apprentices are able to hold another part-time job while they train, but most salons absorb all expenses. "It is a test of your commitment to the industry rather than a lucrative business arrangement," explains Renee Skrocki, co-owner of V.I.P. Nails & Tans Inc. in Riverview, Mich. "At first it costs money to train this person, but if you invest time into training her correctly, in the long run you break even because she will build her own clientele at your salon."
States and Their Programs
Depending on its laws, each state handles its program differently. After analyzing complaints from salon owners about inadequately trained students, Illinois changed its law to allow a 35-hour professional internship.
"Our state was vehemently against an apprentice program because it's usually only successful if the student has a solid salon mentor," says Robert Passage, vice president of Pivot Point International (Chicago).
At first, Illinois resisted reinstituting a traditional apprenticeship program (the last one was discontinued 10 years ago) when some apprentices reported learning more about cleaning the salon than actual nail skills. When discussions began about bringing a program back, Pivot Point, along with other groups, asked the state to replace it with a professional internship program for school credit.
"Most salons have training programs for new hires, but the Illinois program is a good way for students to get their feet wet without replacing important school training or salon training," Passage says.
"The internship program we have now represents only 10% of the students total training, but it is a step in the right direction in terms of helping students get actual salon experience," he says.
Nail licensing in Illinois requires 350 school hours, but once the student reaches 175 hours, she can clock 35 of the remaining hours in a real salon. While closely supervised by a salon mentor, the intern is allowed to perform unpaid services, such as manicures, on clients. The mentors are chosen by the salon, which enters into an agreement with the school and the student. The state board is never involved.
Very few states are directly involved in the agreement between student and salon prior to any apprenticeship program. Oklahoma requires the apprentice to fill out a "statement of need" to prove financial hardship or that there are not enough schools in the more rural areas of the state to be eligible. It is also the only state that requires the trainer and the apprentice to make an appointment to meet with an inspector, who brings all of the necessary paperwork and sets the rules and curriculum for the program. Similarly, Maryland sets the curriculum for the nail apprentice programs in the state and requires that the apprentice buy a specific book from which to study for the state board exam.
Voices of Dissent
Inability to control what is taught and who teaches it is the main point of dissension. "I think apprenticeships are a great idea in theory," says Nilsene Privette, a nail technician and educator at Rowena's in Phoenix, Ariz. "But only those who are committed to continuing education and dedicated to the profession should be allowed to train the next generation of nail technicians. Perhaps we should implement a program similar to the training sessions required of foster parents — teachers would be taught specific skills and knowledge and then they go back and guide the apprentices into the nail profession."
The instructors should also be knowledge-driven rather than product-driven, suggests Privette, who is a past Arizona State Board member.
She also has similar qualms about what should be taught to apprentices, as much as who is teaching them. "In my opinion, we need to resolve all these questions before we could implement an effective program," she says.
The governing bodies in Oregon, similar to Arizona, leave nail education in the hands of the beauty schools only. Cosmetology training is regulated by the department of education, which takes recommendations from the Board of Barbers and Hairdressers.
In 1995, the board for the first time recommended increasing the number of required training hours from 350 to 600 to accommodate new nail products and technology. The department of education agreed and passed the measure.