Nails Down Under

Being a nail technician in Australia is not so different from being a nail technician in the United States, except that nail technicians in Australia have no licensing requirements and nails-only salons are a new phenomenon.

<p>Maggie Schmiedte (top row) outside the Australian Nail Academy with (bottom row, left to right) Debbie, Kathleen, and Amanda.</p>

Nail care in Australia, once relegated to a table and chair in a beauty or hair salon, is now being performed in the limelight as the sole event at an ever-increasing number of nails-only salons. The Australian nail industry is quietly yet undeniably expanding.

According to the Australian Consulate, 17 million people inhabit the huge island continent of Australia. Yet, according to Bill McKendrick of the Australian Beauty Association, there are 12,500 hair salons. Few nails only salons exist, but their numbers are growing. “The better hair salons now want manicurists,” Mckendrick says.

What Are The Numbers?

How many nail salons operate in Australia and how many people work as nail technicians? The Australian government keeps no statistics on the nail industry because nail technicians are not licensed or regulated by the government. Maggie Schmiedte, owner of the Australian Nail Academy school in Perth, estimates that there are approximately 2,000 nails-only salons in Australia. “My estimation is between 8,000 and 10,000 nail technicians, of which 20%-50% are full-time technicians 40%-45% are part-time or are beauty therapists or hairdressers who do nail along with other services, and 25%-30% have taken a nail course but have not pursued nails as a career,” she says. The Australian Professional Finger nail Association (APFA) has more than 500 members at the present time, according to its secretary. Lorraine White.

Education And Licensing Are The Issues Of The Day

White says that because the nail industry is not regulated, schools can set their own curriculum and hour requirements. She adds that the APFA has representatives on a number of government committees to make suggestions on training and health issues relating to nail care, but that the APFA is also in the process of setting up an accreditation certificate for nail technicians. This certificate will take the form of a two-part examination, theory and practical. “Queensland is the first state in Australia where training providers have to apply to become an Approved Training Organization (ATO) with the Queensland government,” she adds. And White believes that the most important issue today in the Australian nail industry is training standards.

“Our recommendation to private training schools is 120 hours. We have excellent training organizations in Australia that train to or in excess of the APFA recommendation of 120 hours with a maximum class size of three students attending training classes for as little as 13 hours and being issued certificates.”  Nancy J. Rosewall, owner of Girl Talk Nails and Beauty salon in Bracken Ridge Queensland agrees that nail technician education is the most important issue facing Australia’s nail industry today. “Our government’s intervention has not had a great effect on weeding out the bad schools and teachers. There are still so-called schools operating and turning out undertrained and unequipped technicians who paid a lot of money for their training.’ I feel, as many others do, that a type of apprenticeship should be introduced so students can get some in salon hands-on training like our hairstylists and other technical trades do.” Rosewall believes the industry needs to have stricter government control and that salon professionals need to have more influence on the laws that affect them.

Maree Alexander, newly elected president of the APFA and chairperson of its examination committee, says. “The APFA has a curriculum standard requiring the teaching of sculptures and tips and overlays over 120 hours; but, of course, this is only a requirement. The APFA has no authority to enforce this standard.”

White says the APFA still has a long road to travel before it reaches it goals. She explains that the APFA is in the process of putting together an examination that will include both theoretical and practical parts that nail technicians can take. We will encourage our member technician to take this exam and be awarded the APFA Technicians Certificate,” White says, “This in turn will help improve the training schools standards so their students will also pass our exam and be awarded our certificate.”

“The majority of nail technicians want licensing to help regulate the industry,” Alexander says “Most governments in Australia at the moment seem more interested in deregulation than in regulation.” She says the government is gradually beginning to accept nail technology as a course in the government teaching institutions and she would like to see the government take over the accrediting and licensing of those who train.

Where Australian Nail Technicians Work

Most nail technicians today in Australia are self-employed. Even though there are a number of nails-only salons, Alexander says that many technicians have a workstation set up in a hairdressing salon or beauty salon. Many others work from home.

Do They Enjoy Professional Status?

Alexander says that nail technicians in Australia are being taken seriously as career professionals, but adds that nail technicians who operate from home damage the credibility of the profession. She also points out that the lack of educational or licensing requirements makes it difficult for industry professionals to move ahead. Says Alexander. “Anyone can buy product. There is no way for conscientious distributors to distinguish between professional and nonprofessionals. Legally there are no requirements whatsoever.”

Rosewall says that for a long time the rest of the beauty industry has regarded nail technicians as something of a joke. “Some of the beauty therapy courses include artificial nail training. I do not believe that artificial nails should be taught in a beauty therapy course. Nails should be given the respect they deserve and be taught by specialists in this field. I can see a time not too far in the future when we will get the respect we deserve,” she says.

“We are so often still thought of as the sideshow to a full-service salon,” agrees Schmiedte, “just there to paint a few nails if the client has extra time.”

Is The Australian Nail Industry Growing?

Schmidte believes the Australian nail industry is going steadily and she attributes its growth to many factors. “There are many more importers, distributors and even manufacturers of nail products covering the marketplace in Australia. Most distributors have training establishments to train new technicians,” she says.

Rosewall too thinks the industry is growing at a steady, moderate rate. “It’s been a gradual thing. I feel that the United States has had a huge influence on our and other countries nail industry. Your films and TV shows feature lovely starts wearing beautiful nails glossy magazines feature perfect-looking, healthy nails.” She adds that the ever-increasing availability of high-quality nail products has helped promote the industry.

What’s Popular In Nail Care In Australia Today?

Schmiedte says that the days of thick, unnatural-looking artificial nails that damage the natural nails are gone forever.

“We do mainly acrylics and lots of manicures and pedicures,” says Jillian Swan, owner of Nails at North Sydney and second-place winner of the Sculptures Open at the APFA’s 1993 National Finger-nail Championships in Sydney. “Eighty percent of our clients have French polish with either natural or acrylic nails. Clients generally like their nails to look natural, well-groomed, and elegant.” 

Alexander, a salon owner herself, has two shops located five miles apart in a rural area outside of Sydney. She says her most requested service is nail extensions and fills. “Our specialty is sculptured nails; however, across the Sydney metropolitan area tips and overlays are the most prolific because that is the system most widely taught,” she says. “Acrylic tips and overlays and sculptures are undoubtedly the most popular followed by fiberglass gels, and manicures,” Alexander adds that nails are being worn shorter now than a year ago and that the most popular are square with rounded corners.

“The standard nails is one-third tip and two-thirds nail plate,” she says. For Rosewall, the big seller is Girl Talk’s French-manicured acrylic nails (sculptured or tips with overlay). “The French fills run a very close second,” she says Rosewall says that, without a doubt, the short-to medium-length, squared off or slightly rounded acrylic nails are in demand.

“Even though I do not have the gels or fiberglass to offer my clients yet, I would say that eight out of 10 requests are for acrylic.” For natural nails, Rosewall says clients are asking that they be short and slightly squared. Some older clients like a more rounded look.

What lies in the future for nail technicians in Australia? “We’ve just scratched the surface,” says Schmiedte. “Australian women are impressed with the beauty and easy maintenance of nail enhancements.”



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