What We Need To Do To Attract Apprentices Now - By Cos Sakkas

Published 09th Feb 2024 by Charlotte Grant-West

The current British Hairdresser of the Year, Cos Sakkas, has written an open letter to YOU, the readers of HJ, on how we can all inspire the next generation of hairdressers.

The issue of recruiting the next generation of hairdressers has been bubbling away for a few years, but with the pandemic, changes in working habits and consumer behaviour, it’s an issue that salons are now facing every day. Global Creative Director of TONI&GUY and the current British Hairdresser of the Year, sponsored by Schwarzkopf Professional Cos Sakkas, believes the industry needs to come together to ask why young people aren’t choosing hairdressing as a career choice.

Cos says: “When I started hairdressing 30 years ago, the main thing that stopped other youngsters coming into the industry was the stigma that it was a job for those who couldn’t do anything else. For me, it wasn’t a career I was planning on taking – I went to college to study business. I saw the campaigns in the windows of the TONI&GUY salons and they always used to catch my eye, so when a friend who worked there suggested I go along, I already recognised the brand.

As soon as I stepped inside the academy, I knew it was for me – the music, the vibe, the banter. I wanted to be part of that. It wasn’t all plain sailing, I failed my first hair test and was all fingers and thumbs, and I was gutted that I might not be able to work in a salon! But I was determined and worked really hard.

And what a career it’s been! Now, the sad thing is young people don’t seem to realise what an incredible career they can have with hair – and it’s time we asked ourselves why.

We all know what an amazing industry this is, so why don’t the next generation?  There are lots of factors of course – schools don’t promote creative industries; government and the media don’t take us seriously and it’s still seen as a low wage job.

Evolution is all about young people and every salon, big and small, can’t get enough staff, can’t get enough apprentices, young people aren’t coming into our industry. What we used to do obviously isn’t enough – they want something different; they want different motivations and inspirations that we had 10, 20, 30 years ago.

They don’t care how hard we had to work. They don’t want to hear how much we struggled and worked round the clock. They’re looking for something new, something fresh and we need to come together to see them in a new light.

Social media has a huge effect in good and bad ways. They can see how creative we are, the transformations we can have on someone, the buzz of a salon and the excitement backstage at a show or photo shoot. But it also has its downfalls; videos on how to create a hairstyle in 30 seconds takes away the hours of education we’ve all invested in; TikTok-ers using kitchen tools to create a hairstyle undermines the skills we have. Everything is instantly accessible – and they want that in the real world too.

So it’s time we looked at what we offer our future generation – because their outlook and opinions aren’t going to change. We can’t have an apprentice working hard on low money, taking three-four years to qualify, especially when their friends in other industries are qualifying quicker and earning more money. They don’t look at the long term, it’s the short term that counts so we have to make sure it’s as attractive as possible.

So how do we do this? I don’t have all the answers, but I do know we have to put our heads together and come up with a new way of training, a new way of exciting the next generation. It’s up to us to build them up, embrace and encourage them, make them aware that they can be successful whether it’s as a behind the chair stylist, running a salon or being a session stylist.

The hair industry is incredibly diverse, inclusive and welcoming to everyone, and we have to embrace young people’s passions and behaviours. The great thing about hairdressing is its personal, interactive, emotional – we were the one industry everyone was talking about during lockdowns when they couldn’t get appointments! Consumers believed in us and it’s time we believe in ourselves. It’s not all doom and gloom; we’re a thriving industry with great things happening. I’m proud to call myself a hairdresser and I’m sure most hairdressers feel the same. We now need to instil that passion in young people by giving them an industry they are proud to be a part of.

It's not going to happen overnight, and we’re not all going to agree on the right approach, but we can make it happen. We can make this industry the choice for young entrepreneurs, creatives, goal-getters and misfits who can come together and enjoy the same careers that we have."

Do you agree with Cos? Is the future of our industry in our hands, or do we need outside support to create the next generation of hairdressing apprentices?

Thinking about entering the British Hairdressing Awards 2024? Head here to read more and start your entry today!

Charlotte Grant-West

Charlotte Grant-West

Published 09th Feb 2024

Charlotte oversees the print magazine, website and social media channels at HJ. With over a decade of experience as a journalist, Charlotte was formerly Editor of Modern Barber and HJ Men, Social Editor at Netmums and Features Writer at Boots Health & Beauty magazine. She loves any products that make her hair bigger and more voluminous, and loves a behind-the-scenes peek at anything hair-related – whether it's a factory tour, BTS on a shoot or backstage at fashion week.

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