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.
"Now the general feeling is that apprenticeship programs are not needed because the hours have been increased," says Brenda Hoxsey, chairwoman of the Oregon Board of Barbers and Hairdressers and the industry liaison to the state legislature. "In 1997, the idea of an apprenticeship came up again for cosmetologists, but the way it was written a student would have to clock 2,300 hours and then spend another 18 months apprenticing in a salon to be eligible for a license. It was just too much."
However, Hoxsey says she thinks a revised bill requiring less apprenticeship training might pass in the state eventually. "Because of problems with MMA, forged licenses, and cheating on exams that has already been documented, I am not sure what the best solution would be to train new nail technicians. But I am sure the subject is not closed," she says.
Bypassing the Classroom
Variations on the classic apprentice-ship-for-school-credit program do exist in other states. Maine gives those interested in becoming a nail tech a choice as to how they want to accumulate their hours: 200 hours in a school program or 400 hours in a straight apprenticeship program. But, like no other state, it allows the student to apply any accumulated, credited hours in school toward an apprenticeship, should the student decide to try on-the-job training.
Diane Laird, owner of the School of Nail Design in Bedford, N.H., added a mentoring program to her school's curriculum last year. "Our program is designed to help students decide what type of salon is best for them and gives them a chance to experience salon reality before they are required to work full time," she explains.
The student spends one or two days only in a salon of his or her choice to volunteer basic services. "The students are not allowed to work on clients, but may work as a receptionist or an assistant," she says. "This gives them a chance to observe the style of the salon and the nail technician as she performs client services." Laird likes the approach because it allows budding nail technicians to see the importance of professionalism, quick services, and quality services.
Similar to Maine, New Hampshire apprentices are allowed to work on clients after part of a total of 300 hours has been spent observing and working in a salon.
"Apprentices who decide to go this route have to work in a salon double the number of hours required as a student in a traditional school and are required to study the same books to pass the state board exam" Laird explains. In her experience, many of these students seem to do well on the practical part of the exam, but some do poorly on the written part. Laird thinks this may be due to the fact that book study is not emphasized as part of their in-salon training. "It depends on the salon owner. If she is busy, she will usually sacrifice a review of the written material with the apprentice before she would sacrifice teaching new hands-on skills," she says.
In Georgia, apprentices must log 640 hours of work in a salon. Once completed, the apprentice applies to take the state board exam, which can take any where from two to six months. In the meantime, a temporary license is issued to allow the newly trained apprentice to work in a salon on clients for up to two years until she gets her license. It is only recommended that an apprentice contact a school to confirm that she has studied the right information during her term in the salon.
However, the Georgia State Board plans to revise the training by increasing the number of hours it will require and making it mandatory that some of those hours be spent in an approved nail technology program. "Last year we passed a law that requires a nail technician training an apprentice to have at least 36 months of experience themselves," says Jeannette Knox, executive director of the board. "We are also planning to implement a way to license apprentice instructors in the future."
This seems to be good news for Georgia-based salons. "The only problem we have, if any, is when the state's training does not match how the general population of nail technicians does things," says Melanie Allgood, owner of Fingertips Salon in Roswell. "The apprentice needs to be sure to pick a salon that is current with the rules of the state and can teach the latest techniques and how to use new products."
According to Allgood, other salons may not take on apprentices because they don't have the time or resources to devote to training beginners. Georgia has tried to tackle this concern and make sure that apprentices get enough attention during their tenure by requiring that each nail technician have only one apprentice train under her at a time.
Salons in Georgia as well as across the U.S. might not have the room in the salon for another nail technician, who isn't producing as fast as the seasoned technicians. Others just can't meet state requirements for apprenticeship programs, such as providing references or posting a bond.
In Michigan, the rules are strict in order to protect the apprentice and make sure that she receives the best possible training during her time in the salon.
Each salon must possess a cosmetology shop license and a bond, and submit blueprints or models of the shop to be eligible to run an apprenticeship program. The nail technician trainer must be at least 18 years of age with three years of licensed experience and may train only one apprentice at a time. The trainer is required to be present when the apprentice is working. In addition, the shop must have at least one licensed cosmetology on staff at all times. To add to the salon's commitment to its program, every trainer is also responsible for writing three state board-approved (both practical and theory) exams to test the apprentice's knowledge of anatomy and disorders, sanitation, and manicuring techniques.
Each apprenticeship requires a six-month period of 480 hours of in-salon training, during which the apprentice can work between 20 to 40 hours a week, but no more than seven hours a day in the salon.
Once the apprentice passes the salon exams and completes her required hours, she is eligible to take the state board exam and should receive her license in less than two months. In the meantime, apprentices are encouraged to work for tips doing nail art or helping around the salon until they receive their license to do nails.
Similarly, salons in Mississippi have to meet specific requirements and are inspected before they are granted permission by the state board to have apprentices. Salon owners and trainers are required to submit both personal and professional references, as well as lour notarized blueprints of the salon itself. The state is not as tough on the apprentices, who must only have a high school diploma and the desire to learn to be eligible.
Other states that allow apprentice programs include Alabama, which is the only state that requires the apprentice to be trained be a licensed manager; Hawaii, which requires 700 hours of salon time in lieu of school with a licensed nail technician; South Dakota, which requires six continuous months of 40-hour work weeks in a salon under a licensed cosmetologist; and Indiana, which allows a student to apply for a work permit after 300 hours of training and applying to take the state board.
In-Salon Training Programs
Sometimes apprenticeship programs are made to resemble in-salon training programs that many salons offer the nail technicians they have just hired. These types of programs work well because the salons that end up participating, have the resources to do it right-But because there are no state-by-state learning standards, these salons are free to teach their methods of performing services, right or wrong, to nail school graduates.
Award-winning Fingers' Nail Studios, is a prime example of a salon that makes such apprentice programs very successful. Ten years ago, Shari Finger opened her first salon in West Dundee, Ill.
With the absence of licensing in her state, she was hard-pressed to find nail technicians who were up to speed on their technique. Necessity moved Finger to act and she started her own apprentice program for new nail technicians. "Even after nail technicians licensing was required in my state I had more success training technicians myself rather than hiring them from another salon are refraining them six years and many trainees later Fingers apprentice program became as much a part of the salons structure as her from door.”
Apprentices in fingers saw are not paid and are required to work on Sundays and weekends with her until they are up to speed on nail extension and natural nail services let them know up from what they are getting into, says Finger.
They are not compensated for their time but they get a great education I want them to be happy here but I reed their commitment and loyalty Apprentice work at a discounted rate $22 50 for a full set as op posed to $45 until Finger feels they have mastered the technique enough to fairly raise their prices. This works well in two ways; clients that Finger refers to as "bargain hunters" are able to get quality nail services at a discount, and the nail tech gets an opportunity to build up a loyal clientele.
Even though Illinois changed its laws to require a short in-salon internship, Finger has no plans to drop her program. "Even though the laws have changed, so far school training alone still doesn't seem to get them ready for working on my floor;" she says.
After two months of one-on one training with Finger, Laurie Engels was ready for the floor at Fingers, Engels has been a full-time junior nail technician for more than six months. "I needed more hands-on training than what I received in school, especially on fiberglass and gels, "says Engels. "I needed more time with the Instructor one on one, which is what I got from Shari, I learned more from her in one day than I did in 350 hours of school."
Is it Worth It?
An apprentice's education rests on the trainer's ability to teach professionalism, sanitation, technique, and customer service. Even though some salon owners may only break even from their investment in training an apprentice, they are contributing to the future of their own livelihood by making the commitment.
While apprenticeship programs are not perfect, they have helped fuel many industries for hundreds of years. If school funding is cut and state boards fall victim to the legislative ax, it could be up to salon owners and their staff to train the next generation of nail technicians.
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