How to become a hairdresser
Becoming a hairdresser requires a lot of hard work and dedication. We spoke to Nikki Samuels, Curriculum Manager for Hair and Beauty at Abingdon & Witney College to get some of her top tips for getting started as a hairdresser, from studying and training, to developing the wider skills needed to enter the workplace. Read on to find out more.
Legally speaking, there are no formal requirements that need to be met to become a hairdresser.
However, it’s highly unlikely that you’d ever make a sustainable career out of it without having any qualifications. So taking the time to study and get qualified is crucial if you want to make a success of hairdressing.
Fortunately, there’s a wide range of hairdressing qualifications available for you to choose from, including a range of BTEC and NVQ courses, as well as apprenticeship schemes.
You can also usually fit studying for your qualifications around a day job, which means you can earn as you learn.
We’ve put together another article to help you find out more about the hairdressing qualifications that are available here, but before you commit to anything, it’s worth doing some first-hand research to get a feel for what life as a hairdresser is like. This could include spending a day at a salon to get a sense of what goes on there. You’ll be surprised at how much you don’t notice when you visit as a customer!
The first step
Once you’ve decided that a career in hairdressing is for you, the first step to getting qualified is usually to apply to a local college for a place on a relevant course.
In some circumstances you can contact the owner of a particular salon directly to see if they’d be willing to organise a placement. However, this is more likely to come about if you already have a connection with that person and they are willing to train you.
At Abingdon & Witney College, Nikki and her team deliver NVQ qualifications in Hair & Beauty and Makeup Artistry.
‘The three NVQ diploma levels that we teach each take a year to complete.’ Nikki explains. ‘Entry depends upon a student’s GCSE grades, for example, those who achieved fewer than four D-grade GCSEs will enrol in a level 1 Hair & Beauty Introductory Diploma. Those with four D grades and above (including Maths and English) can begin a level 2 programme, which is the standard entry level.’
‘Whilst students are technically employable at the end of their level 2 course, we encourage ours to progress to level 3 and master more skills to further their career prospects.’ says Nikki.
The apprenticeship route: how long does an apprenticeship take?
As well as full-time education, apprenticeships are also an option for many looking to become a hairdresser.
With an apprenticeship you’ll be able to get hands on experience of working in a salon as well as studying by spending some time each week in a college.
Usually, an apprenticeship will take 18 months to complete, but you’ll need to get an NVQ Level 2 to be able to work as a junior stylist and continue your training.
This also means that graduating to senior stylist level could take around five years if you continue down the apprenticeship route, but this will also depend on your commitment to studying for your NVQs and overall ability for hairdressing.
In her role, Nikki teaches students who have taken a range of different routes. ‘Full-time and apprenticeship students work towards the same qualifications, so we’ll often merge the classes - it’s just a different way of learning,’ she says.
When it comes to choosing a route to take, this will largely depend on the individual. ‘For younger learners, apprenticeships are probably the best way to get the practical experience, but those who start with more secure grades and find it easier to learn in a training environment may prefer to do the college-based course.’ Nikki explains.
Continuing professional development is important for hairdressers, as the hair and beauty industry is constantly evolving. So it’s best to think of training as a continual aspect of your career, rather than something you can stop once you’ve finished your apprenticeship.
Many colleges now offer training that’s supported by brands or industry leaders. For example, at Abingdon & Witney College, students will enrol in the Lee Stafford Hair and Beauty Academy. As Curriculum Manager, Nikki describes how the decision to enter the partnership depended very much on the support and influence of local employers.
‘We did a survey and all of the local employers and found that they all supported the partnership and saw that students being trained to be industry-ready as a big advantage.
‘Lee Stafford’s involvement makes the qualification more relevant and current. His immense experience and knowledge of the difficulties involved in making a career in the industry has helped to ensure that the students’ tuition isn’t merely a box-ticking exercise and rather, the skills they learn while at the academy will be really relevant to the demands that they’ll be facing when they finish training. For this experience students get an additional certificate alongside the standard accreditation.’
Finding the right hairdressing work placements
Work placements are an important part of any hairdressing training programme. ‘We encourage our students to seek their own placements to help them find a good fit, work out the practicalities of getting there and to build new relationships. Sometimes we collaborate with students to help them along if they need more support,’ says Nikki. ‘The exam board insists we simulate a salon standard working environment in which students use the tools they would have in the real world. Often we’ll run salon sessions in the evening which are commercial.’
It’s clear there are many choices for students looking for a future in hairstyling and other treatments, and, thanks to the expert support, experience knowledge and encouragement of teachers and lecturers like Nikki, many go on to establish their own successful businesses.
The benefits of being a hairdresser and career progression
The UK’s hair and beauty industry is in good health, with the National Hairdressers’ Federation reporting that:
- there are over 40,000 hair and beauty businesses around the country
- over 270,000 professionals are employed in the industry
- hairdressing and barbering businesses are the fifth most common startups
- 48% of hairdressers and barbers are self-employed
So if you have the right skills and personality, you have an excellent chance of remaining highly employable throughout your career. It’s also an industry that can help you make a success of being your own boss.
And if you decide in the future that you’d like to move away from working in a salon, there are a range of other available career paths in hairdressing to take.
But although there are a lot of opportunities available in the hair and beauty industry, you’ll need to learn a broad range of specific skills to give yourself the best chance for success.
This demand to develop a wide skillset is something that Nikki has noticed in her work at Abingdon and Witney College. ‘Students who study hairdressing now want to learn Indian Head Massage, holistic skills, eyelashes and makeup artistry as part of their course.’ She explains. ‘This means that they don’t have to remain hairdressers. They can also become reps, trainers, and product developers for hair and beauty companies. Some students are even drawn to work in retirement homes to help care for the appearance of residents.’
The future of beauty education
Social media is an increasingly popular tool for hair and beauty professionals to use alongside their usual toolkit.
‘We encourage our students to share their achievements on their favourite social media platforms and to tag Lee Stafford,’ says Nikki.
‘It’s also really important for students to keep developing their skills and challenging their creativity - it’s not just a case of picking up a hairbrush and scissors. Social tools are often a great source for hairdressers of all levels to get fresh inspiration.’
If you do go on to start up your own hair and beauty business, it’s crucial to make sure that you have hairdressing insurance in place to cover you against mishaps that could happen while you work.
We’ve also put together an interactive tool to help you style your own pathway to success in the hair and beauty industry. With tips on everything from finding a hairdressing apprenticeship to marketing your new business on social media, we’ve got the information that could help you to take the next step in your hair and beauty career. Click here to take a look.