Donald Trump may have given apprenticeship some glamour, but aspiring nail techs have been completing these hands-on training programs for years pre-dating the hit show “The Apprentice”. (And instead of hearing “you’re fired,” nail tech apprentices hear “you’re licensed!”) Before you sign up for an apprenticeship, take on an apprentice at your salon, or set out to get your state’s laws changed on the subject, here’s what you need to know.
Licensed and Want to Train Someone Else?
Beyond Nails owner Sandi Tomlinson (right) still employs Kristie Stephens, her first apprentice from eight years ago.
Salon owner Sandi Tomlinson started taking on apprentices out of desperation. “I couldn’t find any licensed nail techs,” says the owner of Beyond Nails in Livonia, Mich. “I once sent a letter to 12 of the beauty schools in my area, telling them to send promising graduating nail students my way. Ten of the 12 letters came back undelivered because the schools were closed.”
Though it may have started out of necessity, her apprentice program has since blossomed into a way to train the next generation in the correct way of doing nails and has (with a few exceptions) overwhelmingly been a positive experience for Tomlinson herself. She’s taught seven apprentices in the last 10 years and actively recruits for more when one completes the program. Her first apprentice from eight years ago still works at the salon today.
In most states that allow apprenticeship, to take on an apprentice the only requirements are that you are licensed yourself and that you and/or the apprentice file the appropriate paperwork with the state.
Training an apprentice is a great way to cultivate the next generation of nail techs, stop them from developing bad habits before they start, and frequently gets you a no-brainer new hire.
In the salon, an apprentice can also assist you with day-to-day tasks. Tomlinson typically starts them off by letting them remove polish, take off gel-polish with wraps, and fill up pedicure spas. After they are more experienced, Tomlinson lets them do entire services, choosing to give apprentices long-time clients versus (impressionable) new clients and sometimes promotes in her salon’s e-newsletter that the apprentice is available to do services for the salon at a discounted rate.
However, the time you save in delegating some tasks to the apprentice may be countered by the time you are obligated to spend training her. In addition to crossing two hours off of her books a day for training, Tomlinson also sometimes comes in early or on days off to train an apprentice. She says that the first time she took on an apprentice was the most work. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I had to write all of the tests for the first time. Now I just have the tests saved on my computer, and I ask the apprentices to use their own paper for the workbook assignments so I can reuse the books,” she says.
At Spa on the Boulevard (where Styers is the spa’s first ever apprentice, though it is gearing up to take two more), spa manager Katie Hettinger and owner Saudia Green advise that as the teacher you set goals for your apprentice at all times. “We chose a service each month to focus on and we won’t move on to the next teaching skill until our apprentice has mastered the previous one. This helps both the mentor and the apprentice because we always know that she is being taught in a sufficient manner. If the apprentice has mastered the skill early, then we are able to move onto the next service early,” they say.
Recruiting an apprentice can also be time-consuming, though often salons recruit current employees or clients. “Honestly, the apprenticeship fell into our laps. We had hired someone to work the front desk and a beautiful relationship was started from there,” Hettinger says. “We are able to teach and mentor her in a field that we are all so passionate about.”
Apprenticeship veteran Tomlinson recruits with ads and promotions in her e-newsletter. “I’ll say ‘Sandi’s looking for the right person to apprentice,’ in my e-newsletter, and I’ve gotten some people from that,” Tomlinson says. Tomlinson also gives a $100 bonus to clients who send her an apprentice, which she says is worth it to cultivate a nail tech to hire.
Apprentices also offer the closest opportunity to “cloning” yourself, as Tina Caton, owner of Polished Nail Lounge in Richmond, Va., sees it. “My first two apprentices are now my best friends, and I have former apprentices who are now salon owners, one is working as a booth renter, and two are employed by one of my previous employees. We still all stay in touch regularly and they call me if they have questions — anything from lease signing to technical to supply emergencies. I can only work 40 hours a week, with my full book and my turning clients away, I’d rather teach others and ‘clone’ myself.”
Caton, who is considering opening a school to train more people more quickly, adds, “There is an advantage to teaching these young aspiring nail technicians because they are willing to work for it and they know it takes time, and they will make money if they do things right.”
Next page: Pushing for change in your state