Hairdresser | Youth Central

Sue, 40 and Jess, 20

How did you become a hairdresser?

"I knew from age five that I wanted to be a hairdresser", says Sue, the fashionista owner of a funky Fitzroy hair salon. "I was really lucky that I knew what I wanted to do so early on. And I was lucky that I had some creative talent." Sue left school at 17 to start her apprenticeship and now, 23 years later, she's still passionate about hairdressing.

What does a typical working day involve?

Sue's day starts by setting up the salon. "I'll put some music on to get the atmosphere going, grab a quick coffee, and look at the day's appointment schedule to make sure enough space has been allocated between clients." Sue sees around 30 clients a week, whereas third-year apprentice Jess sees around 10 a week, but this will increase as she builds up her client list.

Before going home, Sue will debrief with her apprentices and check the appointment schedule for the following day. Loads of towels are washed continuously by anyone with a spare second, and the dryer is always humming.

What are the pros and cons of the job?

For Sue, the main highlight of hairdressing is being able to give someone a fashionable look and working with them to change their style to achieve a greater self-esteem in the community. "You can tell when you've done it - they almost skip out the door." For Jess, "working in a creative environment where everything's different every day, and not being stuck in an office" are the high points. Lows are having to deal with difficult clients, having to be upbeat when you're feeling a bit flat or unwell, and the low pay structure for apprentices.

What are some tips for breaking into the industry?

Breaking into the industry requires research. Jess recommends that you pick the salon. "Physically go in there. Investigate the salons in the area you want to work, and look at magazines to see which salons are good." Sue says that walking in the door with your resume and introducing yourself shows a lot of initiative, but warns that presentation is vital: "No wet hair or regrowth!"

She also says that doing a "pre-app" (pre-apprenticeship) shows that you're serious about pursuing hairdressing as a career. "Doing my pre-app made me more employable. It meant that I had the shampoo skills and knew how not to drown somebody at the basin." (At the sound of a timer, Sue dashes off to check a client's foils.)

What sort of skills and qualities do you need?

Both Sue and Jess say the most important quality you need to be a hairdresser is a passion for hair. "Doing an apprenticeship means the money isn't great, your hours are different to your friends and there's lots to learn. You have to really want to do it and work hard," Jess comments. Sue believes you have to like people, and to be caring and engaging with the customers. Other essential skills are being creative, having an eye for fashion, being able to visualise change, being approachable, and problem solving. "You have to be able to stand on your feet all day and keep smiling, so you need to have stamina," Sue says.

What are your career goals?

Jess isn't interested in opening her own salon. "I like coming to work and leaving." Her goals are "to be the best I can, and maybe travel overseas." Sue has already spent time working overseas (attending the Hairdressing World Cup was a major highlight) and wants to take on more of a mentoring role. "I'm currently doing some teacher training so I can do more education. And I'm working on improving the business. That means keeping the clients and the senior hairdressers happy, and continuing to inspire people."

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