After three incomplete degrees, I finally discovered my passion for barbering aged 23. I can actually trace my love of barbering back to a conversation I had in my hometown barbershop, where I had been going since I was 11. It was the cool one with an old Shell petrol pump and it smelt like aftershave, waxes and pomade. I remember a conversation with the owner. She saw how much I liked to fuss with my own hair and told me I’d be good at fussing with other people’s too!
So I researched barbering courses and the internet presented me with two options. A local college course or a 10-week intensive course in London. I plumped for London, had a blast and came back ready to get stuck into new opportunities. But I quickly realised how difficult it was to find a role. I submitted application after application only to be met with: “Sorry mate, need someone more experienced.”
I did understand that I wasn’t the finished article, but I needed someone to invest in me and give me a chance. So after a few months of unsuccessful job hunting, my mum showed me an advert for a barbershop who were looking for an apprentice. I packed my bags and signed a lease on a flat in a new town. I was chomping at the bit to get stuck into being a barber and the first day was as I expected – watching the barbers cut, sweeping hair and making drinks. During this, my new boss handed me a ‘Training Costs Agreement’. “Oh it’s just something I need you to sign in case you decide to leave before I get my funding for training you,” he said. I didn’t think anything of it, signed it and got on with the rest of my day.
Six weeks later, I was let go. The reason? I wasn’t progressing quickly enough. Six weeks was how long the owner expected it to take for me to be a fullyfledged barber. But the fun didn’t end there, I never got my final pay check. Upon questioning its whereabouts, I was met with: “Well, actually you owe me £2500”. Remember that ‘Training Costs Agreement’? Well there was no evidence he had sacked me, so not only did this guy cut me loose after six weeks, fail to pay me my apprentice wage, but I was expected to pay £2500 because of the agreement.
Thankfully not long after this a small high street barbershop gave me an opportunity to hone my skills there. And last year, I was offered a job teaching barbering at a college too. It’s been challenging – think being thrown into a class of 20 students without much guidance! And there are some things I disagree with like the fact students are asked to provide their own models. Surely this needs to change to ensure we are training barbers on a range of hair types and textures? Sometimes I worry that colleges focus too much on financial gain, rather than creating the next generation of amazing barbers.
Today I run my own barbershop in Bristol. I have two apprentices and have seen them grow into successful barbers. I think shop owners are reluctant to take on apprentices because they claim it doesn’t work for them financially. I can appreciate this to a degree, but it’s important to invest in the future. Shop owners want staff that can hit the ground running, but they need to invest in the ‘youth system’. Other barbers will no doubt have experiences like mine, and those who are less resilient, won’t ever make it in the industry thanks to people who can’t see the bigger picture.
I believe more needs to be done to provide opportunity to new barbers so that we can really make the industry the best it can be.
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