How to Decide if a Barbering Apprenticeship is Right for You

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Many states offer two routes to earning a barber’s license: through a barbering education program or through an apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships can be amazing when the relationship between you – the student – and the barber sponsoring you for your apprenticeship – the master (a term that has stuck since the Middle Ages) – is constructive and mentoring in nature. Part craft and part art, barbering lends itself particularly well to apprenticeships. Vidal Sassoon, described by Paul Mitchell as “the most famous hairstylist in the history of the world,” learned his trade through an apprenticeship. After growing up in an orphanage and dropping out of school at the age of 14, Vidal Sassoon became an apprentice barber at the suggestion of his mother.

An Apprenticeship Sounds Cool, but is it Right for Me?

Still – apprenticeships certainly are not for everyone and many aspiring barbers prefer to enroll in a barbering program. When deciding whether or not to apprentice ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I learn better with direct hands-on training?
  • Do I enjoy working with experienced professionals one-on-one?
  • Do I have a strong idea of who I want to conduct my apprenticeship with?
  • Do I already have some experience cutting hair and facial hair that can distinguish me to a potential master barber?

If you answered, “yes” to these questions then you should seriously consider an apprenticeship.

Don’t get the wrong impression of apprenticeships either. You’ll still study on your own from a textbook, most likely one of the more recent versions of Milady’s Standard Professional Barbering. And you’ll still need to pass your state exams to earn your license – the same exams that graduates of barbering schools need to pass.

Apprenticeships are not an “easy” alternative to barbering school – they can be quite the opposite. Experienced barbers won’t accept you as an apprentice if they think you are going to be bad for business. Working as an apprentice means you’ll need to distinguish yourself from the beginning.

States that Allow Apprenticeships as a Path to Becoming a Licensed Barber

Of course, participating in an apprenticeship is not an option for everyone, since not all states recognize apprenticeships as a path to becoming a licensed barber. On the other hand, a few states actually require would-be barbers to participate in an apprenticeship for a short period even after completing barbering school in order to be eligible for a license.

Currently, approximately 18 states offer the option for an apprenticeship. Two of these states require license candidates to actually justify why they couldn’t attend barber school. Currently, five additional states require the completion of an apprenticeship even after completing barber school.

States are listed here with their specified amount of apprenticeship time if you choose to earn your license via this route. States that require an apprenticeship after school are also listed (for reference 2,080 hours equals one full-time year):

  • Alabama – 2,000 hours
  • Alaska – 2,000 hours
  • Arkansas – 480 hours (60 days)
  • California – 3,200 hours
  • Delaware – 3,000 hours; or 1,500 hours plus 600 hours of coursework
  • District of Columbia – 1,500 hours
  • Georgia – 3,000 hours
  • Louisiana – 4,000 hours (only if you cannot attend school)
  • Maryland – 2,500 hours
  • Massachusetts – requires an 18-month apprenticeship after completing school to work as a master (independent) barber
  • Minnesota – requires completion of 1,500 apprenticeship hours after completing school
  • Missouri – 2,000 hours
  • Nevada – requires an 18-month apprenticeship after completing school
  • New Hampshire – 1,600 hours for a traditional barber license; 3,000 hours for a master barber license
  • New York – two years
  • North Carolina – requires a one-year apprenticeship after completing school
  • North Dakota – requires a one-year apprenticeship after completing school to work as a master (independent) barber
  • Oklahoma – 3,000 hours (only if you cannot attend school)
  • Rhode Island – two years; or a combination of 1,000 hours in school plus 840 apprenticeship hours
  • South Dakota – one year (an apprenticeship is required if you are at least 16.5 years old but less than 18)
  • Utah – 1,250 hours
  • Vermont – 2,000 hours
  • Washington – 1,200 hours
  • Wisconsin – 2,000 hours

If your state isn’t on the list then you will need to complete your barbering education by enrolling in an approved school. This list is current as of May 2016. Of course, regulations can change, so it’s wise to confirm with your local board of barbering/cosmetology.

How is an Apprenticeship Different from Attending Barbering School?

Weigh these factors when considering which route to licensure you want to pursue:

Time – In most states that allow apprenticeships to be completed in lieu of barbering school, you can expect to spend about twice as long in an apprenticeship as you would in school. For example, compare these states and their apprenticeship vs school time requirements:

  • Alabama – 2,000 apprenticeship hours vs 1,000 school hours
  • Georgia – 3,000 apprenticeship hours vs 1,500 school hours
  • California – 3,200 apprenticeship hours vs 1,500 school hours

Money – Let’s not brush aside your pay– this is definitely something you will be considering as you think about an apprenticeship. On the surface, you may think an apprenticeship is a better deal since you can typically expect to be paid, as opposed to paying to enroll in a barbering school. Not so fast. To have an idea of how the finances will settle you can do some quick math.

We’ll use the Atlanta Beauty and Barber Academy as an example. Tuition is $10,550 and let’s say the program takes nine months to complete. Once you get your license, let’s assume you make $20 per hour with tips. Two years after starting this process you will have earned $51,200. Subtract out the price of tuition, and your net earning over two years comes out to $40,650.

Now lets take a two-year period for an apprenticeship where you’re earning $10 per hour with tips. After two years that adds up to $41,600.

Of course this comparison can vary depending on how much you earn as an apprentice or licensed barber, but you get the idea. In conclusion, it’s logical to consider finances when weighing an apprenticeship vs barbering school. Just don’t make this the sole basis of your decision.

Learning Environment – This is perhaps the most obvious difference between attending school and going the apprenticeship route. This aspect gets back to your own personal learning philosophy and preference. An apprenticeship means that you can potentially be involved in the operations of a barbershop from day one.

One of the best advantages of apprenticing in a barbershop is that you can see the real-world business side of the operation. While business aspects and client service are covered in school, there is no substitute for working with your master one-on-one to balance the till, calculate overhead costs, and make profit projections. Like it or not, no matter how good you are at cutting hair, if you can’t manage the books then you will have a hard time being successful with your own shop.

Topics Covered During an Apprenticeship

You will also notice that the hour requirements for apprenticeships can differ significantly from state to state.

Why is that?

Basically, each state has its own specific requirements when it comes to what must be covered in an apprenticeship, and some states have more than others. There are some foundational topics that you can expect to learn in your apprenticeship that are universal throughout the country (students enrolled in barbering school cover the exact same essential topics):

  • Hygiene and sanitation
  • Hair cutting and styling, and likely hair coloring, lightening, and curling
  • Facials and facial massage
  • Shaving, with clippers and with a straight razor
  • State, local, and federal laws pertaining to barbers
  • Cleaning up a blood spill
  • Barber business and finances
  • Client interaction, psychology, and service

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