Industry Experts Explain Why Education is So Important

Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just out of beauty school, education is important for continued growth and success. We talked to a few industry experts about the value of education.

In the past, there were limited opportunities for hairdressers to further their education aside from trade shows and classes offered by their local distributor. Today, however, beauty professionals have myriad options at their fingertips, from online classes to YouTube tutorials. In the last decade, the learning landscape has changed dramatically, due in part to advances in technology. Redken was one of the first companies to recognize the importance of online education, launching The Break Room, an online community of stylists that features a mix of education, business and creative content. Flash forward to 2015, and we see a plethora of online platforms as companies race to digitize their content. Still, no matter what medium you choose, the important thing is to make a commitment to continuing education and training.

In other fields such as medicine and public education, professionals are required to take continuing education courses in order to maintain their licenses. Most states require continuing education to maintain your cosmetology license, but even if your state doesn’t, don’t rest on your laurels. Simply getting a cosmetology license isn’t good enough if you’re in this for the long run. “Without education, sustainability is not possible,” says Frank Gambuzza, president of Intercoiffure North America and owner of Salon Visage in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The Benefits of Continuing Education

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The concept of “lifelong learning” was introduced in Denmark as early as 1971 in order to describe the continuing, self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. Aveda founder Horst Rechelbacher was an early advocate. Meanwhile, as far back as 1929 when he published Lifelong Education: A Sketch of the Range and Significance of the Adult Education Movement, Basil Yeaxlee proposed that learning should continue after graduation from high school and that the goal of life was to keep learning. This is a worthy goal and an especially relevant one in the constantly evolving beauty industry.

Gambuzza believes that at the end of the day, education is what will strengthen your brand and keep your clients happy, especially if you regard hairdressing as a career rather than simply a job. But there are other benefits to continued learning, namely staying fresh and finding new sources of inspiration.

Gerard Scarpaci—co-founder of hairbrained.me, an online professional beauty community, and master stylist at Arrojo Studio in New York City, where he leads most of the advanced education classes—echoes this sentiment. Scarpaci believes that it’s crucial to keep up with new techniques and continually hone your craft, especially in an industry like ours that's always changing.While continuing education is important, Scarpaci cautions against underestimating the value of being around people who are really passionate about their craft. Just being in their company can reignite the excitement you once felt for your profession.Taking a class with other hairdressers can also alleviate the boredom that comes from doing the same thing in the salon day in and day out. Case in point: Recently at Arrojo Studio, stylists came together for three days to study razor cutting. At the workshop, they found a support system where they felt comfortable making mistakes. “It’s hard to try new things in the salon, but in training you have a license to experiment and you don’t have to feel bad about making a mistake,” says Scarpaci, who points out that mistakes can often lead to new discoveries.

What’s in It for Salon Owners?

Consumer behavior drives change, and right now people’s tastes and desires are changing more rapidly than ever due to unlimited access to information. Additionally, downturns in the economy have created more competition for every dollar in the marketplace, so salon owners can’t afford to be complacent. “Education is what got us through the recession,” says Gambuzza, who claims that because the profit margin for salons is shrinking, it’s more important than ever to understand how to run a successful business. “Staying educated is the key to staying competitive,” says Gambuzza, who warns that if you’re behind on new techniques or new products and trends, you’ll lose. Now that mastering the art of social media can make almost any industry professional a star, “being asleep at the switch for a little too long can cost you.”

Stay Inspired

Playing it safe can backfire, so learning new techniques and seeking out educational opportunities to fine-tune your craft are a must. After a couple of years, many clients want change or start asking about new trends. The balayage hair-painting explosion is one example. Four or five years ago, the team at Arrojo Studio had a meeting about balayage and recognized its potential. The service now makes up 50 percent of the revenue of the color department at the salon. “If we hadn’t ventured out and gotten the education, we could have lost that revenue,” says Scarpaci. “I knew tons of hairdressers who did meticulous foil work, and because they didn’t get out in front of the balayage trend, they lost a lot of business.” The lesson: Pay attention to new trends and capitalize on education or training that teaches you the necessary skills to deliver results.

The Value of In-Salon Education

“Every hairdresser should be doing outside education once every six months and in-house education on a weekly basis,” recommends Scarpaci. Gambuzza agrees. In his salon in Knoxville, he offers specialized in-salon education targeted toward either colorists or hairstylists. Every new employee understands that continuing education is the backbone of Salon Visage. Gambuzza sees education as a three-pronged approach. In the first phase, employees practice techniques on mannequins. In the second phase, they practice on live models. The final phase involves quarterly trainings for the remainder of the stylist's career at the salon. Gambuzza believes that it takes a minimum of five years to become an expert hairdresser. Just like in a teaching hospital, education can happen on the floor in a salon, not just in a classroom. Gambuzza’s advice for salon owners who are unable to offer this type of in-house training: Give incentives that encourage employees to pay for their own education.

The Pros an Cons of Online Education

Many stylists are creative, right-brained people, so it’s important to discover what learning formats work best for each person. Online education is great if you’re self-driven and willing to practice on your own. What you’ll miss is the feedback from a live instructor. Scarpaci compares it to learning in a vacuum. Gambuzza agrees that online education has an upside (it’s readily available) and a downside (it’s kind of like shopping at T.J. Maxx where you have to weed through a lot of junk to get to the pearl). Gambuzza warns against ping-ponging all over the place and getting ideas that aren’t really interdependent with the current ideas that you are learning. Still, he recognizes there is a place for online instruction and that it can be a convenient and efficient way to learn.

Still, many experts agree that there’s no substitute for hands-on learning. “Nobody gets better at doing hair by talking about it,” says Scarpaci, who suggests improving your skills by trial and error and practicing with a mentor.

The Future is Now

Like it or not, beauty school students are getting access to online resources and technology like tablets and test banks on their computers, so ignoring the growing trend toward online education doesn’t benefit anyone. Both Empire School and Pivot Point offer their curriculum on tablets. The Art of Access program allows students to obtain the curriculum online with a code they receive on the textbooks. Milady is also putting more and more of their core education online. In fact, they recently went live with Razor Cutting Online with Nick Arrojo. If you're an educator, visit milady.cengage.com to browse through their product catalog, resource center and video hub. Some of the videos include instructor training webinars, how to use textbooks, and product overviews. There’s even a “fulfill continuing education requirements” tab on the site making it easy for beauty professionals to find out about new learning opportunities.

Finding an Online Community

Online professional communities like hairbrained.me offer inspirational images, how-to videos and other helpful content for beauty professionals. “We call it the online home of craft hairdressing,” says Scarpaci. It’s an online community similar to Facebook where anyone can browse the site, but you must create an account to post content. Everyone who signs up is vetted to make sure they work in a salon or are affiliated with the professional beauty industry in some way. “We’re not like other websites where we just pump out media stories,” says Scarpaci. “We don’t actually create any content. It’s all user-generated.” Professionals can put up pictures of their favorite looks, write about best practices in the salon, or comment on the best classes to take. The site gets over 50,000 hairdressers a month viewing content, so it’s a popular hub.

 

The Value of Trade Shows

Scarpaci finds plenty of value in attending trade shows where you can wander from classroom to classroom to see which educators grab your attention. Trade shows are also a great way to find discounts on training programs. A good rule of thumb for choosing an effective in-person training program, says Scarpaci, is the 75/25 rule—the class should be at least 75 percent hands-on and 25 percent demonstration or lecturing.

◗ Not sure how to pay for all of this education and training? Frank Gambuzza offers some advice to keep you on track.

◗ Plan on spending a certain amount of money each year on education.

◗ Commit to what you see as an annual education program, then reverse- engineer a budget for the year.

◗ Think about what your plan is going to look like and map it out even if you don’t know which specific events or classes you’ll attend.

◗ Maybe the point is simply to think of education as a means to an end, like going to the gym to meet your fitness goals. If you stop working out, you’ll gain weight and lose any progress you made. Similarly, beauty professionals who don’t continue to seek out new opportunities for growth will see their skills decline. Says Scarpaci, “You’re either moving forward or you’re getting worse. Nobody stands still.”

The Last Word

“Even after 50 years in the industry, the continued refining of my skills is a life-long pursuit,” says NAHA Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dwight Miller, who considers himself a craftsman who has to consistently reproduce his work at a high level. “Any show or class you attend is beneficial, even if it just reinforces a skill you already have.” Miller’s advice is to learn one thing and stick with it until you become highly proficient; it’s been his experience that there is limited retention without practice. “All education has a place and benefit,” he says. “Read trade magazines like American Salon, include a variety of education in yearly plans, and continue to increase skill and knowledge.