The letter sent to the NAILS of­fice reads: "Why don't you have a 'Want Ads' section? I'm a salon owner looking for a li­censed nail technician in New York, and so far my search has been unsuccessful."

While salon owners continue their never-ending search for qualified nail technicians, some disturbing news came from the federal government last sum­mer that seems to contradict their diffi­culties. A General Accounting Office (GAO) report entitled "Proprietary Schools: Millions Spent to Train Students for Oversupplied Occupations" stated that cosmetology was one in a group of 23 occupations that has too many work­ers for the number of jobs available. Ac­cording to the report, cosmetology had a surplus labor supply in 10 of the 12 states studied, the highest of any category.

The beauty industry's reaction to the study turned from dismay to outrage. Malcolm Bonawits, president of North­east Salons in Mt. Pocono, Pa., and Frank Schoeneman, president of Pence Beauty Salons in Pottsville, Pa., have taken the helm to question both the authors of the study and Congressman Christopher Shays (R-CT), chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Re­sources and the Committee on Gov­ernment Reform and Oversight, who originally requested the study.

Playing the Numbers Game

Bonawits and Schoeneman say the numbers are misleading due to two sig­nificant reasons. The first one is the source the GAO used for its labor statis­tics. The GAO used state-level labor market data, which compares the number projected job openings in certain fields with the number of projected graduate who have studied that field. What is in dispute is where the labor market data comes from. "They used state job cen­ters as a source," says Bonawits, "but tra­ditionally, cosmetologists don't go to state agencies looking for work. Salon owners don't go there looking for em­ployees either."

Gene Kuehneman, a senior econo­mist with the GAO, denies that the of­fice relied on this source for its data. "We did not go to state agencies," he explains. "In each state we talked to the labor de­partment to get occupational projec­tions for that state. Their data comes from a survey that is taken every three years, and the private sector is included in these surveys." Bonawits and Schoeneman feel that if researchers had come to working salons and spoke to salon owners, they would have had an entire­ly different — and much more accurate — picture. "In the International Chain Salon Association (ICSA) membership alone, there's a minimum need of about two or three cosmetologists in each salon," Schoeneman says.

The other reason for the disputed numbers is the nature of the way cos­metologists work. Many licensed cos­metologists and nail technicians work part-time; some don't work at all by choice (leave of absence, staying home with children, etc.), but "keep up" their license renewals. "If everyone who holds a license was a working member of the industry, we'd have an adequate supply of workers," says Kit McCormick, owner of Spa Salon Staffing Services, an em­ployment service for the beauty indus­try based in Tempe, Ariz. In Arizona, McCormick estimates that out of the 36,000 cosmetology licenses, only about 16,000 are active. "We have 50 work or­ders from salons in Arizona that we need to fill," McCormick says. "There are so many jobs, it's unbelievable."

The GAO's main objective, says Kuehneman, was not to advocate cut ting off federal funding to schools. "It simply encourages students to get good information before they embark on schooling for their chosen career."

Money is a significant part of the con­troversy. Bonawits and Schoeneman state that about 80% of cosmetology stu­dents rely at least partially on Title IV funds (federally subsidized and unsubsidized loans for students attending high­er education and vocational schools). If this funding is cut, they predict wide­spread damage to the industry, includ­ing slower salon growth, a decrease in product sales, and even salon closings.

Meanwhile, the Search Continues

Regardless of where or how the GAO got its numbers, the industry's need for qualified cosmetologists and nail tech­nicians seems almost universal. At the JCPenney Corp. in Dallas, Cathy Heller, senior project manager for styling sa­lons, is worried that a shrinking pool of 18- to 25-year-olds will further dimin­ish the company's ability to find new stylists. "We're looking at things we can do internally to assist our local salon managers," Heller says. "We will try new methods of advertising to create aware­ness of our salons and to highlight our salary and benefits package."

Whether or not the government de­cides to modify its position on the overcrowded status of the cosmetology indus­try, the GAO report has at least served as a warning to the industry that without a reliable flow of motivated, trained work­ers, everyone will suffer the consequences. Associations such as the American citation of Cosmetology Schools (AACS) and the ICSA are challenging the government's position on the labor outlook schools and individuals need to show through letters citing placement rates and proof of employment, just how many op­portunities there are in the beauty busi­ness. Write to Congressman Goodling, Chairman, Education and Workforce Committee, 2263 Rayburn House Office Bldg., Washington, D.C. 20515.

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