September 2008

Recruiting Students into Cosmetology

By Frank Schoeneman

Cosmetology offers so many wonderful career opportunities.

I represent the third generation of my family in this business (my son, Kyle, is the fourth) and have worked my entire career in the professional salon industry in distribution, running salons and now leading one of the largest cosmetology school companies.

I can truly say that I love every aspect of this business. Chances are you do too, and that’s why you’re reading the Stylist.

I’ll bet you’ll also agree that people are what truly make this industry so wonderful. It’s the people on every level of the industry that bring the passion, the creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit to cosmetology.

It’s the people in salons who work their hearts out day after day to help their clients look and feel their best, while providing a caring ear. It’s the people in schools who dedicate their professional lives to inspiring and nurturing our future cosmetology professionals.

With that said, we need even more people to join our party. We need more caring, passionate, dedicated, motivated professionals, who thrive on making a difference in their clients’ lives.

Traditionally, schools have served in the role of recruiting new talent into the industry, and then salon owners and service providers have recruited the schools’ graduates to work side by side with them.

But today, the task at hand is more challenging. Young people and those seeking second and third careers have many more options than ever.

Therefore, I want to issue a challenge to the industry, to salon owners, managers, receptionists, stylists, estheticians, nail technicians, makeup artists, manufacturers, distributors, school owners, educators and administrators. For this industry we love to continue to grow, thrive and undergo a continual renewal of ideas, spirits and creativity, every one of us must take responsibility to recruit talented people into the professional beauty business. When we all do that, we all win together.

According to the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences December 2007 report “Job Demand in the Cosmetology Industry,” there are 1.7 million professional salon employees in the U.S., outnumbering the one million lawyers in the nation.

Imagine if each one of us recruited one other person; what a beautiful country we’d create together.

Our industry has many selling points, such as the fact that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics “Occupational Outlook Handbook,” about 46 percent of those working in the profession are self-employed. Even of those who are not, many enjoy flexible work schedules, which is an ever-growing demand for women, (and increasingly for men as well), who are looking to find the perfect work-family balance.

We in the schools are on the front line of recruiting; after all, people who are interested in pursuing a cosmetology career will usually start their exploration with us. However, salon professionals are also seeing potential new cosmetologists, or their parents, in their chairs every single day. Your job isn’t finished after you’ve finishing talking to your clients about their hair, skin or nail service and have recommended the perfect products for maintaining their service at home. You have the opportunity to talk about how much you love your chosen career.

Think of it as a career consultation; then problem solve, much as you would with a technical issue. If she mentions she’s considering changing careers or going back to work, tell her about all the varied career paths cosmetology offers, from owning a business to expressing creativity through hair, skin or nails, from performing as a platform educator for a manufacturer to doing hair, nails or makeup for movies, television, videos, fashion shows and photo shoots.

If her child is in high school, ask if she’s suggested cosmetology as a career. Ask if her son or daughter is creative, entrepreneurial or enjoys helping others. If she answers yes, then extend this invitation: invite her to bring her son or daughter into the salon to shadow you for a day to learn about your wonderful career.

Share that a cosmetology career offers job security, a great income potential, flexible hours and plenty of job openings. In fact, it’s a job-seeker’s market, with 53 percent of salon owners reporting job openings, according to the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences.

In addition, manufacturers need to help us by publicizing cosmetology careers in their consumer advertising and even in their consumer brochures and on their retail product packaging. You are already creating those materials every single day. Why not have them do double duty as industry recruitment tools, just by adding one or two sentences. “Love your salon experience? Consider a career in cosmetology.” Salons can also include similar language on their menus, postcards, receipts and other marketing materials, as well as on their websites.

Just as important as attracting new, talented, motivated colleagues, we must all work together to retain them in the industry once they graduate from cosmetology school. Here the tables are reversed. Usually, salons have the responsibility for industry retention once future professionals graduate from school. However, just like recruiting, retention is the responsibility of all of us.

Here’s what really bothers me: Everywhere I go on a daily basis, from my local restaurant to my doctor’s office, I meet people who used to be licensed cosmetologists. In fact, many still keep their licenses, but they no longer work in our industry. What could we as an industry have done differently to change that outcome?

On the school side, we need to give our students a realistic education on both how to give a great cut or color, as well as how to talk to the client, sell services, and take-home support products. We need to make their education fun and results oriented.

At the salon level, we need to embrace new graduates as our new colleagues, treating them with dignity and respect and ensuring they have career mentors, who can help them grow professionally and help their self-confidence grow by cheering their small successes on a daily basis. Financially, we need to make sure they can earn a living wage at their first job. Professionally, we must provide a career path that will help them achieve their personal goals.

Recruiting and retaining talented people in this wonderful industry are the challenge to all of us. When we stop pointing the finger at one another, we can embrace this challenge and solve it together as an industry. When that happens, each one of us will benefit and grow.

Frank Schoeneman is chairman and CEO of Empire Education Group, a school that provides beauty and cosmetology education in North America. For more information, visit


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