September 2008

Raise the Bar in Education

by Mandy Zelinka

How do we attract quality students, how do we retain them and keep them interested and how do we better educate them while in school?

In a field that has so much glamour and income potential, one would think attracting students shouldn’t be an issue. In a field full of well-trained stylists, education shouldn’t be an issue. In a field filled with inspiration and endless possibilities retaining students after school should not be a problem. But these are all issues that need addressing.

Over the years, educating students has become more encompassing, adding elements that are part of the glamorous side of our industry as well as more business sense, but there is still much work to do. There is no reason students should not emerge from school fully trained in hair and business. Imagine, as a salon owner, the ease of hiring, the ease of training this provides. Does it sound like an impossible idea to you?

If We Are All Going to Raise the Bar, Then We All Need to Raise the Bar

Out of a personal need to give back, salon owner Mark Putnam, from Evolution Hair Design in Portland, Oregon, is putting that impossible idea into motion. The North American Hairstyling Awards winner has based it on rudimentary ideals such as “pay it forward.”

He has gathered some of his most esteemed friends and colleagues and has put them to work. “Calling in my friend card” is how he puts it. Every month he pulls out his card and assembles his colleagues to speak at a local beauty school.

One of Putnam’s closest friends is Winn Claybaugh, co-owner of Paul Mitchell the School, and although he doesn’t credit Claybaugh with his inspiration for the idea, his influence has indeed rubbed off over the years. “No garbage in, no garbage out” is a mantra he likes to quote, one that he just finally has been able to grasp 20 years later. In part, this stunted acceptance has propelled him to his latest mission.

“I want students to be able to accept this far earlier than I was able to. Partnering will help us better educate students and make them well-rounded,” exclaims Putnam.

If collaborating with seasoned stylists could become an effective education strategy, then students would graduate as highly trained professionals.

The European Institute in Portland has started integrating Putnam’s idea by inviting guest artists, local professionals, in to talk with the students. The seminars include showcasing a cutting technique, a successful salon owner talking about effectively marketing yourself, a masseuse delivering the message of proper posture when cutting hair, and so on.

As well, they host a photo shoot once a month with a local photographer. After witnessing a real test shoot, selected students are allowed 10 minutes with their provided model, and are given photos afterward to add to their portfolios.

“I just wanted to do something I was happy with,” said Dana Trafton, one of the students selected to participate in the photo shoot. It was hard, after an expensive private school education and parents that had always pushed traditional college, to make the choice for a trade. But days like this have helped to add credibility to her choice, and the ability to have physical evidence to show her parents, cementing their approval in her career choice.

Another student, Erienne Paquette, said the exposure to all the potential parts of the industry has really upped her expectations for a stylist career. “It really has expanded my horizons.”

The pay if forward philosophy works in circles today; the models build their portfolios, as does the photographer, as do the hairstylists, as does the makeup artist. Everyone gives up part of their Sunday, but in return leaves having an experience that would have cost much more than just their time.

These particular students graduate school with not only impressive resumes, but also visual support, a salon owner’s dream.

So get involved. We cannot expect students to just appear. The more you can get involved, the more they will want to work for you.

Admitted Putnam, “It is gratifying to see a difference being made in young peoples’ lives. You can be their cheerleader, their champion. I wish I would have started earlier.”