When I was fresh out of col­lege my writing was much like nails done by a newly graduated nail technician — a little lumpy and misshapen. With some training and mentoring from an experienced editor, however, I was turning out polished prose. A new nail technician is no different: Given some one-on-one training on technical skills and table rapport, raw nail techni­cians soon become polished pros at the art of doing nails.

Salon owners  have  long com­plained that technicians fresh out of school can't do nails. But really, who can do anything perfectly right out of school? "When techs come out of school they have a general idea of what needs to he done, hut they don't know all the tricks of the trade," says Sue Ellen Schultes of Notorious Nail Salon in Green Brook, N.Y. "They need orientation into the business and they need to build up their confidence."

Though nail technicians new to the industry may not be able to do great nails yet, they are willing to try every technique and to listen to advice on how to better their skills.

The tangible payoff isn't always immediate — Schultes says it takes 18 months before she profits from training a new technician. "The first six months I lose money, the next six months I break even, and the follow­ing six months T make up what I lost the first six." But the salon profits in other ways, says Schultes. "The cus­tomer is assured of getting a quality service from everyone. Services are uniform so if clients know they can't get the technician they want, anyone else can do it," she explains. Clients appreciate booking their appoint­ments around their own schedule in­stead of the nail technician's.

And ultimately, the training does pay in hard cash. "The first person I trained has been here a year and a half (and she's my top-booking nail technician," says Randi Selinger, owner of Beautiful Nails & Fancy Fingers in Gaithersburg, Md.

A training program can be as for­mal or informal as you want it to be. The critical ingredient is time: New technicians need one-on-one (raining time, practice time with models, and time to observe and absorb what other technicians are doing. Here's how a few salons train their new technicians:

New Techs Are Immersed In Salon Culture

Sue Ellen Schultes, Notorious Nail Salon, Green Brook, N.J. Our training program is a multifaceted experience. We gear trainees toward learning the culture of our salon — our mission statement, dress code, how to answer phones, how to treat clients, etc. The first stage is three months. Then we ask the trainee to bring in any and all people she knows who would like complimen­tary nail services. This way I can evaluate how she does tips, wraps, gels, fiberglass, and learn where to begin training her. We bring in peo­ple who can't afford services or who don't mind helping out. They got the first three services free, then the next three at hall price.

If the trainee is good at manicur­ing and polishing, I book her right away for those services at lull price. Manicures and pedicures go hand-in-hand and are the first service the trainee does at full price because they're the easiest.

As the technician does services during the training time, I evaluate each step. For example, are the tips on straight? Once she masters one step she goes on to the next. Because the client is aware of the training there's no uneasiness. I still want the client to leave the salon with great-looking nails.

I also buy all the manufacturers' videotapes to review for new point­ers. I ask the technicians to watch the tapes six times during the next week. That way they learn to visu­alize the techniques in their head, which makes them feel more com­fortable with the procedures. The)' pick up the nuances that make a good technician — how to hold the finger, how much monomer to pick up, and how much glue to put on the nail. Little by little, the trainee gains confidence. That's more or less what I'm looking for — confidence. Once she builds confi­dence, she's not afraid to be author­itative with the client, her hands slop shaking, and she can advise clients about the services.

At our staff meetings on Satur­days, we troubleshoot nail prob­lems in a relaxed atmosphere. Someone might not be able to achieve a round cuticle so we'll work on that.

The troubleshooting takes the longest for trainees to learn. When someone comes in with a major break or a ripped nail, we show the trainee how to deal with it. It takes six months to a year before I feel re­ally comfortable about letting a trainee work on her own. I'm still evaluating her work hiring that time.

As for compensation, at first the trainee is salaried. After three months, if she's meeting her quota, she goes on commission.

Salon Training In Lieu Of School

Kandi Selinger, owner of Beau­tiful Nails & Fancy Fingers, Gaithersburg, Md.: We have an ap­prentice training with us right now. She's been the receptionist here for about two years and has watched the technicians do nails. She want­ed to increase her income and was interested in doing nails so we sent away to the State Board to get an apprenticeship license. The ap­prenticeship license requires 30 hours of practice a month for three months to earn the hours needed to take the state board exam. She also has to study Milady's The Art & Science of Nail Technology) book to pass the written portion of the test. I do the training at night. I'll have friends, parents, or friends of' clients come in and, sitting side by side, we'll each do a hand. It's copy­cat: I can watch her and she can watch me. We know these people won't get upset by what she does or how long she takes. The nails she did started out big and bumpy, but she's open to constructive criticism.

I also train newly graduated tech­nicians. The school they teach you about doing nails but not about doing nails on customers. I have the new technicians observe me for awhile, then they work on clients with me. We sit side by side. For the first few customers the techni­cian just observes. Then she goes hands-on and we watch each other work. 1 allow each technician to pick two friends and she can do whatever she wants to their nails. That way I can see what her skills are. The friends are not charged and the supplies are on me. I lose time and money at first, but I make it back. I low long the training takes depends on how fast she picks it up. Sometimes I'll have someone train for a month and then let her work on customers, just doing additional training whore she needs help. Sometimes it takes three months. It depends on how long it takes for her to be comfortable.

While they're learning and we're sharing customers, they get any tips from the customer. When they start doing customers on their own, they get paid for it.

One-On-One For Some — Group Training For All

Marlene Kurland, owner of All That Glitters in Pikesville, Md., and five i Natural salons in the Bal­timore area: We have a variety of ways we do training, depending on what's needed. For new techni­cians, we have them do services on different people in the salon to de­termine where training is needed. No technician goes out on the floor to do a service without being test­ed on that service first.

We pair the trainee up with one or two technicians. First, she'll do the technicians nails so the techni­cian can advise her. If she's having a problem with filing, for example, the tech will show the trainee on her own hand how to do it. Then the tech may have her practice on a friends hands all the next day. Then the next evening the techni­cian will have her come back and demonstrate the technique again.

Once the trainee is up to speed, the technician may tell me that she is ready to go out there and do basic manicures and pedicures but that she still needs more training for full sets. Then the training starts all over again: She does it on the technician, the technician shows her the right way, then she works on models and re-tests.

Before long, the trainee is doing basic manicures and fills and fixing broken nails. She gets paid a com­mission when she works on clients. We don't pay her for training time, but we do pay the nail technician who's training her on hourly rate.

We also have group training whenever it's needed, sometimes once a month, sometimes every week. All 60 employees from the six salons are invited. The training can be on new products, mani­cures, pedicures, fills - whatever the technicians need to sharpen their skills on.

Chart Outlines Trouble Spots

Renee Skrocki, owner of V.I.P. Nails & Tans Inc., Riverview, Mich.:  When we have someone come in for an interview, we ask her to bring in someone and do a full set. I don't watch her, I want to seee the end re­sult. Then she has to come back and do a fill. I train from the bottom up. If you have someone with a great personality, you can tell if she's capable of being trained.

Once we decide to invest the time to train, we hire the trainee on a temporary basis for 60 days. We tell her that we're going to see how it goes if her heart is in it, she'll get through it.

At first, I come in on my off hours and have the trainee do my nails. I give her a chart that covers speed and timing and lists each technique from start-to-finish on a full set and gives them the time it should take for each. If she takes 20 minutes longer than she should to finish a technique, we break her technique clown and see where she needs to cut time. She can also come in on her off time and watch the other technicians. The technicians here have the trainees do their fills and give them advice during the service.

When she first starts training, she comes in as often as she can. She spends about five unpaid hours a week training. In the meantime I have her do hot oil manicures on paying clients. I recommend she start part time and we work her into a clientele slowly. She also fills in for technicians who are on vacation. That's valuable training also be­cause1 when the regular technician returns, she can evaluate how the trainee's work held up.

Trainees Learn On The Job

Michele Heller, owner of 800 West Salon & Spa, Marlton, N.J. New technicians spend a week ob­serving all aspects of the salon's op­erations, from how we escort the clients, to how we keep our stations, to the actual technical aspects of the services. If the trainee needs hands-on training, she works as an assistant alongside one of our top technicians until the department manager feels she's ready to work on clients.

As an assistant she may greet the client, set her up, remove her pol­ish, get the hot oil treatment for her soak, and, depending on how far along in training she is, she may do some filing. Then the experi­enced tech comes in and does the cuticle work. At the end, the assis­tant may take over and do the pol­ish. At the same time, the assistant is practicing on other staff mem­bers and can bring in friends and family members to work on.

Once we feel she's got the manicures down, we'll start her out with basic manicure bookings. Then we may move her into training with pedicures or gel bonding work. We find that if the technician shows con­sistency, commitment, and growth in all aspects, it takes about 30 days for her to be working on her own.

During training, she is paid mini­mum wage when she's assisting; her work on friends and family mem­bers is free. Once she starts servic­ing clients, she's on commission.  

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