Hairdressing career options: Direct Line for Business asks an expert
With over 35,000 hair salons in the UK (according to HABIA), there's a high demand for hairdressers and barbers with the right mix of technical skills, artistic sense and a good way with customers.
We got in touch with Belinda Hay, owner of The Painted Lady hair and beauty salon in London to tell us about her own experiences of getting started in the industry, and some of her tips for choosing the right hairdressing career path.
How did Belinda get started?
'I first started training in New Zealand,' Belinda explains. 'It was a three-year, 6,000-hour apprenticeship. After that I went on to do a trade certificate before moving to Australia, where I had to train for a further 6,000 hours to be qualified there!
'In New Zealand I trained in a small family salon and in Australia I was trained in a chain salon by someone who had worked and trained at Toni and Guy and Vidal Sassoon in London. So my early experiences were varied to say the least.
'From there, I moved to the UK in 2002 and worked for a chain salon in the north of England, before moving to London in 2003.'
Common career paths in hairdressing
In most cases, a hairdresser's career path is relatively straightforward. You would need to begin as a trainee or apprentice before becoming a junior stylist.
After gaining experience working as a junior stylist, you would then be able to move up to the senior stylist level.
From here you would then be able to progress to the rank of top stylist and even salon manager if you wanted to.
This is how things panned out for Belinda, who saw the decision to open her own salon as a natural progression and a chance to 'do her own thing'.
Not everyone will want to work in every role from apprentice to salon manager as the more senior roles typically involve less time providing treatments. But if you want to follow Belinda's lead and work your way up to running your own salon, you'll need to master a range of additional business skills including tax and finance administration and social media marketing.
These same skills can also be useful for those who don't want to open their own salon or start a mobile service. At a lot of salons, including Belinda's, many hairdressers and beauty therapists are self-employed, earning commission on the income they bring in.
'The apprentices, receptionists and nail team are employees, but my hair team are commission-based,' Belinda explains, 'So they're self-employed, which leaves them free to do creative work outside of the salon like photoshoots, for example.'
While this is a common arrangement for many jobs in the hair and beauty industry, it will have a big impact on certain administrative issues like insurance.
'I have public liability insurance that covers the work that they do in the salon,' she says, 'but they are responsible for insuring themselves for work outside the salon. This is a crucial point to bear in mind and will apply to any freelancer.'
If a freelance career is something you're interested in, take a look at our guide to freelancing in the hair and beauty industry.
More unusual career pathways in hairdressing
If your skills are advanced enough and you're good at networking and willing to travel, your career path as a hairdresser could take you in a wide variety of directions, including some more unusual routes.
A long salon career doesn't mean that you'll do the same thing in the same place all the time. Hair and beauty skills are in global demand, so you could see the world and work at the same time (provided that you speak the language anyway!). You could even work on cruise ships and military bases.
You could also combine your hair styling skills with training in makeup techniques. This would allow you to expand your career into other fields like TV, fashion and media, where the ability to work quickly and flexibly is especially important.
The rise in blogging and social media has enabled many hairdressers to develop additional skills in writing, photography, demonstration and presenting.
Is hairdressing a good career choice for me?
There's no 'one size fits all' answer to this question as each hairdresser as unique as the styles that they create.
But generally, hairdressing is a good career choice for those with the motivation, flair and skills to spend most of their day meeting people and making them look fantastic.
It's also a valuable and versatile trade that can be done in a number of working environments. You'll more than likely be able to do most, if not all, of your training while continuing to work as well.
This was true for Belinda who found out when she moved from New Zealand to Australia that she was required to undergo further training. Fortunately, because of the flexibility of the hairdressing business, she was able to keep earning whilst she learned.
So if you're a flexible, driven person with good people skills, a career in hairdressing could as well be for you.
Where to find career opportunities in hairdressing
It can be difficult to find hairdressing jobs, especially if you're new to the profession.
An easy way to start making sense of the job market in your area is to check newspaper advertisements, local job sites and the government's Universal Jobmatch website. Even if you're not yet qualified to land the job, you'll be able to find out more information about starting salaries, qualifications expected and the personal qualities that you'll need to be successful.
It's also worth checking the websites of the various chains that have salons in your area. They will often post job vacancies on their careers pages.
If you're still new to the profession, an apprenticeship is often the best way to go about getting started with a hairdressing career. There are a number of different steps that you'll need to take to secure a hairdressing apprenticeship, but it all starts by making an application to your local college.
Most hairdressers will start out this way, and by applying to your local college you'll be able to make the most of any links that they've established with salons in your area.
After qualifying, many apprentices continue in their current workplace, while others use their qualification to find work elsewhere.
Finally, it's important to note that apprenticeships are not just for 16 year-old school leavers - Belinda herself employs apprentices that are aged 24 and 29.
Making a career change after hairdressing
If you come to decide that hairdressing is no longer for you, where else could your skills take you? Fortunately there are a number of different options that you could take if you decide that life in a salon isn't for you.
- Becoming a college-based instructor is a popular move for senior stylists who fancy a change. From there, you could find opportunities for progression including becoming a course leader or head of department (depending on the structure and size of the college).
- If you've noticed that you have a gift for sales in your role as a hairdresser, how about becoming a 'rep' for a hair and beauty brand? You'll need to be driven, with excellent communication skills and the ability to handle pressure.
- Many of the additional skills that you'll pick up during a hairdressing career are transferrable, and more radical moves could involve taking your customer service skills into hospitality or retail; perhaps moving straight into a management role if you'd previously been running a salon.
Thinking of starting up your own hairdressing business? We've put together an interactive tool to give you the information you need to take the next step in your hair and beauty career. Click here to learn more and start styling your own pathway to success.