Re-writing the rule book on how to attract and maintain apprentices
The ongoing search for apprentices and seeking the next generation of our industry has presented many challenges for salon owners across the country, making staff retention such a huge conversation, yet with no real definitive answer.
Though they may not have the answers, they certainly have success stories, as part of our National Apprenticeship Week series in partnership with The Industry, we spoke to the pros – from salon owners to apprentice academy managers – to share first-hand experiences and successful methods they have used to train and recruit new talent at their salons.
“When exceptional applicants come our way, it becomes paramount to nurture their potential and emphasize the remarkable career choice they’ve made. At Jack & the Wolfe, our commitment to an ‘Equal Team Culture’ is integral,” says Lydia Wolfe, co-founder of Jack & the Wolfe in Lymington. “Rather than burdening apprentices and assistants with mundane tasks, our entire team collaborates to maintain seamless salon operations. This allows them ample time for observation and on-the-job learning, encouraging their development into skilled stylists on the salon floor.”
There’s no washing dishes and polishing windows over at Jack & the Wolfe; going against the stereotypical perception of menial, mundane tasks has proven to be a noticeable success for Jack and Lydia.
“Structure seems to be a huge hit with our apprentices. I’ve also found that ensuring their training schedule is planned out in advance helps them to see a plan for their growth,” Lydia says, “As well as being able to hold us, as employers and trainers, accountable – if we have to miss a session for any reason it will always be rescheduled so they get double the following week and I think that gives them a feeling of being valued and important.”
It is demoralising for apprentices to recognise that their training and practice is a low priority for their employer, which is why nurturing and prioritising them during their course is vital to their experience, atmosphere and, ultimately, decision-making when choosing to stay and work after the programme.
A salon that puts atmosphere and experience at the forefront of their apprenticeship training programme is CODE hair salon in Oulton Broad, Suffolk. Salon director Laura recruits apprentices as young as 14, beginning as Saturday assistants, many of whom have visited with their parents during the salon’s teen Saturday campaign which is run by apprentices to gain salon floor experience.
“The young person experiences the atmosphere during their visits, inspiring them to be part of it when they leave school,” says Laura, “Saturday assistants are only recruited if they are serious about pursuing a career in hairdressing, once recruited we are prepping them for the apprenticeship, this means that when they enrol, they are already experienced and mature enough to engage and communicate with our client base.”
All apprentices at CODE are supported by a mentoring approach and welcomed with a judgement-free attitude. “No subject is off limits, and we encourage them to share personal worries or issues,” Laura says, “from financial advice and money management to looking after their mental health and staying safe on social media.” The support system that the salon offers has proven successful in nurturing and growing new talent. Stylist Millie is a perfect example, having begun her journey, seven years ago, at just 14, Millie has been personally mentored and professionally coached, resulting in a string of successes. “Not only has Millie been working on overcoming anxiety and panic attacks, she also saved hard to pass her driving test and buy her own car at 17, went on to win the Creative HEAD It List 2021 Rising Star Award, and got her foot on the property ladder after buying her first home,” Laura explains. “My advice to any employer would be don’t train your apprentice to be a great hairdresser, teach them to be the best version of themselves.”
Apprenticeships are the fundamental core of the business at HOB Salons and HOB apprentice academy manager, Treena Eagles-Sime emphasises the wider ambition to create a company full of HOB trained apprentices. “We offer many different progression routes within HOB, the apprenticeship route feeds the broader strategy of the organisation,” Treena says.
In order to make this growth process successful, the key attributes required to get the best out of your apprentices are an important first step. “You need to be passionate about the industry and to be able to inspire and motivate young people. It’s not just about being a great hairdresser, it’s about being able to communicate with the younger generation,” says Treena.
“Invest time and energy from day one and always explain the reasons “why”. Understand your audience, be forward-thinking, show clear boundaries and always be consistent. Remember these apprentices are your future and the future of our industry, refrain from having the outlook of ‘when I was an apprentice, I had to…’ – we have come a long way in the workplace and industry – and finally, never assume because you are a good hairdresser that you can be a good teacher, this takes skill and time to perfect.”
Salon owner and hairdresser Brooke Evans of BE Ironbridge in Telford has learned a lot about the challenges that come with new apprentices. “Some people need more encouragement than others and some can be a lot shyer to begin with,” says Brooke. “It’s about bringing them out their shell, you’re nurturing them in their way of life, who they are and what they become, and I think that’s so important.”
A lot of the values Brooke experienced during her early hairdressing days; she has now installed into her own team. “We’re so much more than just a training provider for apprentices,” says Brooke, “it’s about us putting in the time and the graft to really show them that attention to detail and then perfecting what they’ve already learned at college and making them an incredible hairdresser.”
Recognising apprentices as part of the salon team is imperative to the daily operations at BE Ironbridge and everyone is treated equally and maturely. “We offer our apprentices the same number of holidays we do our stylists, an extra week off at Christmas and bank holidays,” Brooke says, “We also have good training set in stone, they bring in clients right from the start and we like to get them blow drying straight away, we encourage them to be on the salon floor. A lot of the stuff that we do is free, they don’t have to pay a fee for colour and cutting work, so I think that really encourages new apprentices to come through, knowing that it’s not going to come at a cost.”
Having apprentices enables the salon to accommodate more clients and so their positions are highly valued. “They are such an important part of the salon. We get them involved in shoots and it’s really important for me to show them how they can be involved in the industry in so many different ways.”