September 2012

LeAnne Velona

The Beauty Professional| by Fred Jones

 

Building and Maintaining Our Industry's Positive Image

As someone struggling daily in the policy-making trenches of a State Legislature during these tough economic times, I know that politicians feel compelled to prioritize industries that will provide the highest return on their "investment" of public resources.

Given how heavily regulated beauty schools, salons and products are, it's important for us to influence how state governments prioritize and spend industry fees and taxpayer dollars.

Since policymakers are elected officials, they respond to both economic and political pressures when deciding where to focus resources. An example in the education arena may help illustrate this point.

In recent years, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) career pathways have occupied the minds of policy-makers. This has been the result of both economics and politics, since many STEM occupations are in high demand, and America is perceived as falling behind other industrialized nations in high-tech.

Given most of the careers in these "tech" fields require a four-year degree, college-for-all has become the primary, educational goal of elected officials.

Publicly-funded programs now place a premium on college-bound students and four-year colleges. The most recent example of this was embedded in President Obama's "Race to the Top" state grants, which rewarded states which emphasized college-prep and STEM programs.

But while federal and state governments were investing in college-preparation for all, most were cutting back -- or in some cases completely eliminating -- programs that supported beauty-related pathways. In California, for example, legislators removed the funding protections dedicated to Regional Occupation Programs.(ROP)

This crucial decision has jeopardized partnerships between our high schools and beauty colleges. My own daughter was the last in a line of 30 years of ROP students at her cosmetology school.

Was this an economically appropriate trade-off, given labor-market demand for stylists remain strong, and the number of stylists far outpaces the number of engineers? And what about the fact that in California, our state universities only have a 60 percent completion rate? Or that nation-wide, two-thirds of four-year college graduates do not work in an industry related to their field of study? And over half of them are either unemployed or under-employed (with an average of $27,000 of loan debt)?

Is the premium placed on four-year college an appropriate prioritization of taxpayer funds? And should such an emphasis come at the expense of other industry sectors whose workers may not need four-year degrees?

Absent an economic imperative or political consequence, most politicians will not challenge the status quo. And right now, trends in public policy at the national and state levels are not favorable to trades not requiring a four-year degree.

However, readers of this trade newspaper can alter the political landscape. The beauty industry employs hundreds of thousands of behind-the-chair professionals and tens of thousands of others who deal with salons and stylists, clearly indicative of a robust sector of our nation's economy. And given the magnitude of these numbers, this industry has serious political weight, if it can be successfully organized and mobilized to influence our elected representatives.

Moreover, each stylist, salon owner and chain manager can make a difference in how our industry is perceived by the public. How we treat our clients, keep our workstations and salons clean, appropriately disinfect our equipment and tools, and maintain honest and legal operations will all have an impact on the image of the beauty profession.

And in politics, perception is reality. Fortunately, how we are perceived is totally and absolutely within our control.

Building and maintaining a positive image for our profession should be a mission of everyone involved in beauty. A rising tide lifts all boats. And as our health/safety and ethical business practice standards rise, so will the favorable perceptions of those who shape public policy and prioritize public investments.

The beauty industry is arguably the most entrepreneurial sector of our nation's economy, with more female owned businesses than any other. This industry provides opportunities to people of all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, at a fraction of the cost of other career pathways currently in vogue with policymakers. There is no reason we should take a back-seat to any other industry. It's time we stand tall and united as each of us do our part to raise the professionalism of the beauty industry.

Fred Jones serves as Legal Counsel to the Professional Beauty Federation of California, a trade association singularly dedicated to raising the professionalism of the beauty industry. To learn more about the PBFC and receive further details about the subjects contained in his column, go to www.beautyfederation.org.