From education to employment

Report Highlights Bright Future for Hairdressing Industry

In a profession that according to a recent Governmental Report will need to recruit and train more than 850,000 individuals over the next decade, the future looks bright (and if you have asked for something a little different, the future may even look orange) for the hairdressing and beauty therapy sectors.

The Working Futures 2004 paper, a report into the future pattern of demand for skills as measured by occupation, claims that a greater number of hairdressers and beauticians will be needed than plumbers and electricians, two sectors that have shown regular growth in employment for decades. That said, in order for this to happen, the hairdressing and beauty therapy industries will need to undergo a serious overhaul, a face-lift if you will; otherwise the current problems it faces will only exacerbate.

Cutting Edge in Service Industry

According to figures published by the national training organisation for the hairdressing and beauty industry, otherwise known as the Hairdressing and Beauty Industry Authority (HABIA), there were just over 215,000 hairdressers, barbers and beauty therapists in the UK for the period of 2004-2005. This gave the industry a 6% share of the service industry sector, an amount projected to increase considerably during the next decade.

Nevertheless, of those 215,000 who make up the workforce, the analysis of the Labour Force Survey (LFS) in 2001 stated that there were 47,938 unemployed, or economically inactive hairdressers and barbers to use the technical jargon. This figure seems to completely contradict the conclusions reached in the Working Futures 2004 paper. So why the discrepancies?

It ought to be mentioned that the NABIA were highly skeptical of the number of unemployed hairdressers and barbers as stated by the LFS. They contend that the high figures were the result of changes to the LFS questionnaire which had failed to take into the account the differences in turnover between different grades of staff and size of salon. The LFS also failed to account for the high levels of mobility that is particularly apparent amongst the young, trainees and junior stylists within the sector. As such they believe the real figure to be much lower. However, the fact remains that unemployment is a major problem within this sector.

Qualifications Deficit

This can primarily be explained by what NABIA identifies as a qualifications deficit within the sector. While training providers have traditionally acted as a driving force within the industry, the lack of suitably qualified young people is acting as an industry brake. Not enough young people are achieving the key skills required to complete their modern apprenticeships. Many salons feel that those who have completed their training are not adequately prepared for full time commercial work.

Additionally, the introduction of technical certificates has been seen by the industry as unnecessary and it is likely that the number of “completers” will decline. All of this demonstrates a measure of dissatisfaction among employers with the way the training of new entrants to the hairdressing and beauty therapy industries is being managed by the government, particularly apprenticeships. It is therefore probable that more employers will turn inwards to privately funded on-the-job training undertaken in their salon.

The beauty therapy industry does not have quite the same problems with the training of new entrants. Most are trained full-time off-the-job by further education colleges or private training providers and while NVQ 2 is the minimum requirement for an employee in a salon, NVQ 3 is the accepted standard. There is a better match between new recruits and vacancies, but there is still significant drop-out during and after training, and a shortage of experienced qualified therapists.

The Potential Problems

It is true that a high proportion of the workforce holds some kind of qualification. The well established tradition of work-based training, particularly for young workers, combined with external training provisions is the main reason 80% of the workforce posses or are working towards some form of qualification in the hairdressing, barbering or beauty therapy sectors. However, the HABIA skills foresight report (HABIA 2002) noted skill gaps within potential and actual new entrants to the industries. These included poor basic literacy and numeracy skills, poor verbal communication skills and “attitudinal” gaps.

Perhaps the report will generate renewed debate as to the efficacy of formal qualifications in the sectors of beauty therapy and hairdressing. It could be argued that sector diversity almost negates the formal qualification structure, diminishing their value and making them nothing more glorified entry credentials. Or maybe there will be calls to introduce a form of “pick-and-mix” unit accreditation that will allow greater flexibility in learning.

Whichever way the debate goes, however, it is vital that a solution is found, and is found quickly to prevent the skills deficit from worsening.

Michael de la Fuente

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