Ken’s Clinic

I need assistance with assistants

“In recent years we’ve had assistants who want instant fame but don’t have the passion and don’t want to put in the time or effort to master hairdressing, and their behaviour has had a knock-on effect on team morale. In the culture of instant gratification in which we now live, what do you think should be the key strategies to engage the next generation and help them appreciate a craft that takes years to master?”
– Austen Thomson, creative director, Austen Thomson Hair

Ken’s diagnosis:

Austen, the reality is that the generation we are training now is different from mine, yours, and those of recent years. I could spend hours explaining the differences but I suggest you watch some of the online content from business consultant Simon Sinek. Once you accept the challenges are different, you begin to realise that the solutions must also be different. Sadly, we continue to train in the same way that we have done for as long as I can remember. Yes, we have had improved syllabuses and changes to processes but, to put it simply, we pay as little as we can to trainees while taking as long as we can to train them because we need them to fulfil mundane roles in the salon. This does not appeal to the ‘now generation’.

Okay, many are screaming at me in defence of the system, but would a trainee doctor spend one day a week learning medicine and the other four changing beds and mopping the floors? Of course not, because they need to be treating patients as soon as possible. Answer me this: if you trained someone in practical skills all day every day, how long do you think it would take them to become income producing?

There are many salons that invest their time and money on in-salon training, but there are also too many that send their trainees off to college for maybe 30 to 40 days of the year for three or four years to achieve qualifications that most salon owners would not accept as good enough to earn an immediate place on a salon floor.

So, what do I think the solution is? Well if the ‘true investment’ in any trainee is the cost of 90 days of training, then why not make this investment up front? Trainees could be on the floor sooner and earning money for you (and themselves) much more quickly.

This now becomes far more appealing to the ‘now generation’, but why stop there? Surely this type of fast-track training would appeal to anyone, of any age, who may be considering hairdressing as a career change? During their training they could also be come ‘social trainees’ just as at 3•6•5 we train stylists to become ‘social stylists’. They could share their progress and pictures of their achievement. They could share the fun and exciting events and courses that they attend. This way they create interest among their friends which may even lead to them wanted to follow hairdressing as a career.

Going back to your original question you mentioned ‘a craft that takes years to master’. Master yes, but learn to an acceptable standard, no. I love motor racing and remember the likes of Ayrton Senna and Niki Lauda. True masters. But who would win a race now, a 31-year-old Ayrton Senna or a 20-year-old Max Verstappen? Try telling Max he has to wait a few more years to be allowed to drive, let alone earn a decent salary!

Our industry has a shortage of stylists NOW. I believe that salons that apply outside-the-box thinking to training will be the winners in the long term.

We need to provide fast and exciting training with a decent level of salary as this generation learns and provide opportunities to earn good salaries in the future. This comes from charging higher prices, which comes from delivering a higher quality customer experience, which comes from truly valuing ourselves as professionals… if we don’t, then sadly, you and I will be having the same conversation for years to come.

Ken West is director of business experts 3•6•5 – email him on

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