For HJ's Apprentice Week, we spoke with former RUSH apprentice and former Denman Stage Star winner James Forte on why apprenticeships are such an important way of introducing new talent into the industry.
How and why did you join your apprenticeship?
Following my older brother and dad’s footsteps, I had just finished a bricklaying course in college. Back then, I knew I didn’t want to do it but didn’t know what I could do or what I’d enjoy, so I started looking elsewhere for work.
My sister is great with writing CVs, so I came to her for help. She asked how I feel about hairdressing and it sounded great – being surrounded by women, being able to talk all day long and making people feel good.
During my apprenticeship in RUSH Stratford, there were so many of my classmates in the college that dropped out of their apprenticeship. I was moved from class to class because the groups kept getting too small! Luckily, I was helping out with various shoots for RUSH and, during the end of my apprenticeship, I was offered a role in the RUSH academy as the academy assistant for six months.
What did you go on to become after your apprenticeship?
After my apprenticeship, I went on to become a stylist at RUSH Stratford. It was nerve-wracking transitioning at first but luckily I had a good team that supported me and helped me in the salon.
Why do you think apprenticeships are important?
Apprenticeships are so important because you get salon experience and the ability to watch the other stylists work and consult while also learning at college. There’s so much you pick up on the salon floor that you wouldn’t learn in college. For example, you learn the technical side of a consultation in college but to give a precise consultation, you have to be aware of keywords that the clients tell you and to be able to understand what they’re asking for to give them the perfect result.
Admittedly, you have to swallow your pride and put your ego aside being an assistant. It’s temporary and the more you assist, the more used to being around hair you are when you qualify. The more time you spend sitting in the toilet or folding towels for an hour out back, the less time you’re learning.
What was the most important thing you learnt as an apprentice?
The most important thing I learnt as an apprentice was doing something that makes you “cool” doesn’t ever help you in the future, like bunking college to meet with friends, messing around, being the class clown or being on your phone during lessons. Thinking you’re too cool for school blinds you from seeing you’re only making a fool out of yourself and your learning.
What would you recommend to those starting an apprenticeship in the industry?
To anyone starting an apprenticeship, the best thing to do is focus and practice. Keep your passion and put yourself out there! If you’ve already learnt a haircut before and you’re being taught again, don’t ignore what’s being said because you think you know the cut. Even learning 1% more is a bonus and, as an apprentice, that information is invaluable!
What are some things those running apprenticeships could do to encourage more young people to get involved?
Apprenticeships should be about learning first and foremost. If you don’t plan on training your apprentice, hire a cleaner if that’s what you’re really looking for. Giving apprentices paths that they can go down when they qualify (rather than making them money-making robots) is what should be offered.
My mum has always been obsessed with Denman, so when I heard they had an annual competition running called Stage Star, I had to enter! If nobody had told me about this competition and kept me in the salon all the time, I would’ve been doing the same thing all day everyday and not have these amazing opportunities that I have now!
Apprenticeships should be focused on the future because that’s exactly what they are – the future!