The Job and What's Involved

Hairdressers use a range of cutting and styling techniques to enhance the personal appearance and confidence of clients. They may work in a salon catering for men, women and children. Some salons specialise in particular styles and clients. For example, African-Caribbean hairdressing techniques include pressing, braiding, plaiting and attaching hair extensions, while traditional male barber services may include trimming beards and moustaches.

New trainees usually spend most of their time greeting customers, taking their coats, washing towels and replenishing stock items, washing hair, and keeping the salon clean and tidy. Much of their training involves observing experienced stylists carrying out tasks such as:

  • Advising clients tactfully on styles that suit their hair type and lifestyle.
  • Shampooing and conditioning hair, possibly offering additional extras such as a head massage.
  • Blow-drying.
  • Trimming, cutting, layering or thinning hair.
  • Colouring, perming and styling.
  • Diagnosing hair and scalp problems.
  • Putting hair up, or pinning and accessorising hair for special occasions.

As trainees gain experience, they may start to practise these techniques on mannequins and then client models.

Before starting on any hair treatment, a hairdresser will get to know their client, discussing ideas for styling. If using chemical products, such as permanent colouring, hairdressers may need to conduct a small skin test to check there is no allergic reaction.

Junior hairdressers or stylists in smaller salons will typically cover reception duties, booking appointments and handling money. Senior stylists and salon owners are often responsible for local marketing activities, recruitment, training, ordering salon supplies and cashing up.

Hairdressers generally work 40 hours a week, normally including Saturday, with a weekday off. Many salons also open late one or two evenings a week. Some open on Sunday. Part-time work is often available.

Hairdressers can be salon based or mobile, travelling to clients' homes. A driving licence is essential if visiting clients.

Most of a hairdresser's day involves standing for long periods. Some bending may be required to cut hair. They may be able to sit on a stool while working.

Chemical treatments may affect those with sensitive skin and, potentially, asthma sufferers.

Starting salaries for apprentice hairdressers vary by age, but may range from £6,864 to around £9,250 a year. Tips and commission payments are likely to increase earnings.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are over 31,000 salons in the UK employing around 180,000 people. A further 100,000 hairdressers are in training. Demand for entrants with the right skills and work attitude remains constant.

Employment opportunities exist throughout the country, with salons in all urban towns and cities, as well as rural locations. Hairdressers can also work in a number of other places, including hotels, hospitals and care homes, cruise liners, film and photographic studios and sets, and Armed Forces bases. Self-employment is common for experienced hairdressers.

Vacancies may be advertised in local and national newspapers, on websites of large hairdresser chains, in Jobcentre Plus offices, Connexions centres and local salons.

Education and Training

There are no minimum entry qualifications to begin training as a hairdresser. The right personal qualities are usually regarded as more important than academic ability.

Hairdressers working in television and theatre normally have experience in make-up as well.

The main routes into hairdressing are:

  • Applying to a salon as a trainee/junior, learning on the job and attending college on day release.
  • Doing a full-time or part-time college course - it is important to make sure that the course leads to a recognised qualification.
  • Via an Apprenticeship.

Relevant courses include NVQ's/SVQ's Levels 1 to 3 in Hairdressing or Levels 2 and 3 in Barbering.

There are also higher-level courses on offer, including BTEC HNC's/HND's and Foundation degrees in hairdressing. Students usually need at least one A level/two H grades, a BTEC Certificate in Hairdressing or an NVQ/SVQ Level 3 in Hairdressing. Some Foundation degrees are aimed at people with the commercial experience of working in or running a salon, rather than new entrants

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Entrants work towards vocational qualifications, such as NVQ's/SVQ's in Hairdressing. Level 1 covers the basic introductory skills needed for a career as an assistant hairdresser; Level 2 includes the essential skills needed for hairdressers; and Level 3 covers more advanced hairdressing techniques and management skills.

Experienced hairdressers may also decide to work towards more advanced qualifications, such as:

  • City & Guilds Level 4 Higher Professional Certificate or Diploma in Technical Salon Management.
  • A Foundation degree in hairdressing or creative hairdressing, combined with salon management.
  • Degrees in beauty therapy and hairdressing.

Hair fashions change quickly, with new techniques and products constantly being introduced. Hairdressers must follow trends and keep their skills fresh. Manufacturers of hair products frequently offer short courses. Larger salons may have senior stylists who travel around sharing tips and demonstrating cutting techniques for the latest styles.

For self-employed hairdressers, the Freelance Hair and Beauty Federation (FHBF) runs training courses on planning, setting up and managing a business. They also provide access to professional technical tutors to support ongoing training and Continuing Professional Development.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A hairdresser should have:

  • Excellent interpersonal skills, and be able to talk with clients in a relaxed manner.
  • Good listening ability to interpret clients' requests.
  • The ability to work quickly and accurately with their hands.
  • An element of creativity and artistic sense.
  • An eye for colour and form.
  • A caring, positive attitude.
  • A smart personal appearance and good personal hygiene.
  • Good manual dexterity.
  • Punctuality and the ability to stay calm when under pressure.
  • Stamina, as they are on their feet for most of the day.
  • A willingness to learn new techniques and keep their skills up to date.
  • An awareness of health and safety issues.

Your Long Term Prospects

In a salon, promotion may be possible to a managerial role.

After gaining sufficient skills and experience, hairdressers may choose to become self-employed. They may set up their own salon or rent a chair within a salon, working on a freelance basis.

Hairdressers may also expand the services they offer by studying for qualifications in beauty therapy. Some hairdressers learn wigmaking or trichology - the study of hair and scalp disorders.

Hairdressers with a minimum of an NVQ/SVQ Level 3 qualification can teach trainees.

Get Further Information

Hairdressing and Beauty Industry Authority (HABIA),
Oxford House, Sixth Avenue, Sky Business Park,
Robin Hood Airport, Doncaster DN9 3GG
Tel: 0845 230 6080

The Hairdressing Council,
30 Sydenham Road, Croydon CR0 2EF
Tel: 020 8760 7010

The Institute of Trichologists,
Ground Floor Office, Langroyd Road, London SW17 7PL
Tel: 0870 607 0602

Northern Ireland Hairdressers' Association,
221-223 Woodstock Road, Belfast BT6 8PQ028
Tel: 9045 5740
Website: None

The Trichological Society,
1 Kings Mews, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 2JA
Tel:0870 766 6996

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