beauty school cop-out: how our education has failed us

Do pros really need a beauty school education to succeed in the industry? Does our current system offer learning opportunities, or create artificial barriers to entry? We reflect on our own beauty school experiences to explore how existing laws and licensure requirements may undermine our best arguments for fighting deregulation and advancing our interests.

Show Notes

Resources:

New York Times – A $21,000 Cosmetology School Debt, and a $9-an-Hour Job 

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Edited for length and clarity.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

ASHLEY: Welcome to Outgrowth: A Slice of Pro Beauty with your hosts Ashley Gregory.

JAIME: And Jaime Schrabeck. As licensed professionals, we all share the experience of completing beauty school as a prerequisite for licensure.

ASHLEY: Unfortunately, that’s where the similarities end. Given the state of the industry, it is time to reassess how we learn our craft. Let’s grow together.

JAIME: Ashley, it’s been many years for me, almost 30 years ago, I attended beauty school.  But now looking back, it’s become obvious that our education has become a liability in the fight to deregulate our industry and proponents make some valid points.

ASHLEY: It’s funny how the actual thing that sets us apart from members of the public, i.e. our education in our chosen industry is the one thing sort of being held over our head as the reason to do away with it. It’s this weird Oroboro, sort of the snake eating itself, of cause and effect, but also the chicken and the egg. I definitely agree that our education is, as it stands right now, our educational system is broken and as an industry we have to come together to figure out a solution.

JAIME: That’s the key is coming together to do it because if we don’t do it, the solution will be imposed on us from outside.

ASHLEY: Well, let’s talk a little bit about what exactly the problem is with the beauty schools, and how they’re failing us currently, and really delve deep into the different aspects of this problem, and figure out, well, between you and I, and our listeners of course, try to figure out, a potential solution to these problems so that we’re not just complaining. We’re actively working towards a better way.

JAIME: We take for granted that this is something that we have to do because it’s written into the law, and we need to take a step back, and address why is it the law in the first place? Why is it that this is the chosen route to become part of this industry when so much of what we do is hands on? Why isn’t apprenticeship more important? What happened that beauty school became the route by which we become eligible to take our licensing exams?

ASHLEY: And if you look at other industries, we’re one of the only trades that is licensed by a state. So for any beauty practitioner that’s listening in the United States, hopefully, you’ve been licensed by your state to perform your craft. But I know there are many other industries in our country that use associations or nonprofit conglomerations to certify different types of professions, different types of skill sets, and that’s one of the biggest benchmarks or one of the biggest facts that kind of get tossed around when deregulation conversation happens. And so I think that is something that could potentially work for our industry, but we just don’t have the infrastructure set up for something like the PBA or similar to actually certify individual beauty professionals.

JAIME: And that would take the states letting go of the control that they have within their jurisdiction for the standards by which individuals can become licensed, and we’ve talked about that before when we’ve discussed deregulation. That it’s very hard for a state to give up that control and defer to what could be a national standard.

ASHLEY: Agreed, and I think it would also be difficult for states to give up the revenue that licensure generates. Now we know different states use and apply those funds differently, like when we spoke with California state board executive director Kristy Underwood. She explained that those fees go to maintaining the operations of the actual testing that happens. So I know that that’s not a small amount of money for a state to just say, now we’re good. We don’t need it anymore. But the other side of that is, if we’re paying into the state to be licensed under their authority then you would expect enforcement to come under that same authority and budgets are tight. There is never any extra when it comes to money paid into the government. There’s very rarely a surplus. So if this were to switch to some type of private entity, what does enforcement look like?

JAIME: We may need to disentangle the licensure itself, paying a fee to have a permit to operate, from the exam and the education behind it. Because when we do go to beauty school, we’re not paying the state to go to beauty school. We’re paying either a private institution, or if you happen to go to a community college, for example, or some other kind of program that offers an approved course of training for our industry, but that money isn’t going to the state. That money is going to some other entity because you need that proof of training. And let me just stop for just a moment, because when we talk about deregulation, I think most people focus on the license itself. And that’s one thing we could talk about is that the deregulation refers to the license, but does it refer beyond that? Does it go beyond the license to the actual training that that license is meant to represent? So I recently in doing some research for an article, I was writing, tried to understand how did these regulations come to be. Before we can talk about undoing them or changing them drastically. I wanted to know when did they come about. And I’m shocked to find, as I’ve reached out to leaders in vocational education, which now we’re calling career and technical education, they really couldn’t answer my question. They didn’t know.

ASHLEY: And that’s shocking to me because when you start to dig deeper, it seems like a lot of these old standby reasons and the things that are just foundational to our industry upon further inspection fall apart. And it goes back to what a lot of us early in our careers say as individual beauty pros as well, they said, oh, that’s just how we do it. And I don’t think that that’s a good enough justification for the number of hours that a cosmetologist, let’s say in California or in Mississippi or in the state of Vermont, needs to accomplish in order to meet some type of threshold. What is that threshold and how did it come to be? Who said, oh, I think it should be this amount of time in order for someone to be minimally competent. And did other states just follow suit or is this something coming from the NIC? Like where did that number come from originally?

JAIME: And that’s where I’m having some difficulty and I have actually laid out this rationale. If we start with the state says you need to have a license in order to do the work for compensation. If we could all agree to that, if you’re going to make money in this industry, we want you to have a license. Well, they could just give out licenses. I mean, they could just charge you a fee and give you out a license, right? It’s like, okay, I’ve got my license. What does that license mean, really? Well, then you have all these additional requirements that in order to get the license, you have to pass an exam. Okay. Well, why not just give the test? Oh, no. In order to qualify for the exam, you have to have a proof of training is what we call it in California. I’m not sure what it’s called in other states, but a proof of training from a school, an approved school, that’s meant to indicate if we’re to believe it, that you have completed a course of training.

ASHLEY: And again, what does that mean? 

JAIME: Right.

ASHLEY: Because they vary so wildly. Just what I needed to do to get my nail technician license here in Illinois and what you need to do to get your manicures license in California, they’re wildly different. So does that mean we have different levels of competency?

JAIME: Or that doing nails in one state is significantly more dangerous than in another. And we need more hours to make sure that you’re not hurting people. I don’t know. And so then you have these state laws that determine the length of the course and they set it up so that it’s done with minimum hours. It’s not a competency-based curriculum. It’s based on you doing a number of clock hours. 

ASHLEY: Yes.

JAIME: Which is problematic in itself, and we’ll go into more detail. And then you have this agency, the same agency that’s licensing is also likely establishing the curriculum of what gets taught, but they’re not responsible for the actual teaching of it. That still is being delegated to these different educational institutions some of which, as we mentioned previously, could either be private institutions or they could be public institutions and they’re all postsecondary. They’re all after high school. And then you have, okay, well, you’ve got this curriculum. Is it just something that the teachers have to develop on their own and convert to instruction? Oh no, you have textbook publishers who get involved and so they’re publishing textbooks that are meant to reflect this curriculum. And I wish I could show you a visual right now. But if you could see the textbook that I had when I went to beauty school in 1991, it’s like a pamphlet. 

ASHLEY: Wow.

JAIME: It is small. It is paperback. I think it’s less than a hundred pages. I have to go back and look at it again. It doesn’t have any color in it at all. It has hand-drawn illustrations, not photographs. It wasn’t meant to look like a look book or anything like that. But you have these textbook publishers who are hugely influential, who put out these editions of nail care curriculum, or skincare, or haircare, and they have to keep producing these textbooks, new editions. New editions, not so much because the information changes, but because I imagine the photographs get dated.

ASHLEY: Well, and you were lucky to have a textbook.

JAIME: Oh.

ASHLEY: Even though it was paperback. I had a three-ring binder with some photocopies, three-hole punched. So I never saw a textbook. I had a completely piecemeal curriculum, just I’m assuming assembled from different books, but who even knows why that was.

JAIME: There’s another part of this process whereby the state has to validate the fact that there’s a licensing exam at all, because you can’t require a licensing exam unless you can legally defend its relationship to licensure and then ultimately the mission of the regulatory agency that is part of the state government, which is to protect consumers. And that process that I just recently participated in is called an occupational analysis. And while I won’t be divulging the contents of what we did, in broad terms, it’s the responsibility of the state agency that oversees testing for all different industries to do these periodic analyses of a particular industry, in which case this was the manicuring industry. So there’s a survey done of licensees to find out, what is it that you actually do as a manicurist? What are you actually doing? Not what you’re supposed to be doing and not what you think you should be doing, but day to day, what are the activities that you’re engaged in? And from that, there is this matrix developed of tasks and then knowledge that’s necessary to complete that task. And from there, that’s supposed to guide the decision making for the curriculum, the exam, and lots of things flow from that. Because if we were to find, for example, that in a particular field, and we can look at manicuring, what if it were true that no one was doing wraps anymore, for example, or very few people were doing raps? Well, then that would mean that it’s not likely that that particular subject matter should have that much emphasis, or be included at all maybe in the curriculum or on the test going forward, because it wouldn’t reflect what the industry is focused on now.

ASHLEY: As we know this process is a slow one. Any time any sort of regulation needs changing or curriculum needs evolving, it’s a slow process and in that process, there are lots of hands. And it’s almost like a giant game of telephone where certain entities have different priorities, whether it be the state board which we know is tasked with consumer protection and public safety, or the lawmakers who are hearing beating drums of deregulation, or the licensees themselves saying the test that you’re giving is not relevant to the services that we’re offering. Thus the occupational study, but it is a slow process. And we get back to what the beauty school’s objective is, which is to have a high test pass rate. So while all of the things happening on the governmental side could be characterized as being done in good faith, when you have the potential for a private school or a public school to be teaching to a test, it seems like one hand doesn’t know what the other one is doing. There’s a complete disconnect between what’s happening on the side of the government and what’s happening on the side of the school. I think it’s a dangerous benchmark to be flouting that you have a 98% pass rate as a school or any of those other kind of metrics, because what does that mean, if you really, really think about it? If you have a 98% pass rate, obviously you’re trying to recruit more students. That’s how you make money. But it’s a slippery slope, because you’re producing beauty professionals who can only just kind of regurgitate what’s on the test. It doesn’t necessarily translate into real world knowledge, or the ability to troubleshoot, or the ability to keep someone safe. It just means you know the shape of a specific type of bacterium.

JAIME: I, as an educator, don’t take as much issue with teaching to the test if the schools could even do that well. They have 1600 hours in California for the cosmetology course. If in 1600 hours, you can’t prepare students to pass the test, what are you doing? How is that time being spent? If I were to present you the questions and answers to a test, if I were to like give you the test in advance and say, you need to study this. You’re not going to be able to refer to it while you’re taking the test. You’d still learn information.

ASHLEY: Agreed, but I also think that it’s very difficult to then take something that you’re learning in a rote memory style and apply it to practice, to real life once you’re out on the salon floor seeing clients. My personal beauty school experience, thankfully, was a good one because they seem to pick and choose from different textbooks all of the best parts. I actually received technical knowledge. I learned about the chemistry of nail products. I was able to do a lot of work with anatomy, but at the time, the test in Illinois was only administered in English. And so there was a very large Asian population trying to learn this test material in a language they did not speak. And so in the back of the school, we were working on our practical. We were performing services on each other for signature: manicures, pedicures, full sets, nail art. It ran the gamut. And then in the front of the school, there were about 25 laptops set up in a U shape. And all of the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean students who were trying to learn in order to do the right thing and be licensed, they were just taking pictures of the computer screen and learning that question based on how it looked, certain words they could recognize. And that has since changed thankfully. But when we talk about the beauty school experience varying wildly from one school to another, you could also say that the experience varies wildly from one student to the next in the same school. There’s just so many variables at play here that it’s really easy to get frustrated with those processes because there’s the different standard of hours across professions in one state. There are the different standards of hours required across the states and then there’s no uniformity created really anywhere. So I think it’s almost kind of an impossible task to try to get all of that information and all of those possibilities filed down into one eventual outcome, which is receiving your license after passing the test and not being a danger to the public.

JAIME: And that’s why the issue of access has been huge. And if I were either a textbook publisher, or a test developer, or someone who administered the tests, for every language you offer, I would just see dollar signs. 

ASHLEY: Yes.

JAIME: But unless the state is issuing or making available an exam that matches that language,  it becomes this game of learning it in one language and then testing in another. And that brings up all sorts of issues about equity, and access, and fairness. And we’ve been dealing with that here in California, particularly on the Spanish-language exam. So assuming that the individuals who are taking the test in Spanish are likely native Spanish speakers and wouldn’t feel comfortable taking the test in English, they’re failing at a much higher rate than others, and that’s very disturbing because it says that we have a problem here, but it doesn’t exactly point to what the problem is until more research is done. And that is an ongoing process. They think they have a lead on it, and it may be the fact that the individuals who are more likely to take the test in Spanish are actually coming through an apprenticeship program and not from a traditional beauty school setting. Apprenticeship is something that while it sounds good in practice, I have some serious concerns about it because it takes twice as long and there isn’t nearly the structure. It’s that you’re working in a salon setting. You’re supposed to be supervised. You can get paid, but it’s strictly on the job training, which isn’t necessarily the best preparation for an exam that’s designed more for textbook learning.

ASHLEY: Definitely.

JAIME: And that’s not to say that one is right and one is wrong. And in fact, I could take issue with a lot of what’s taught in the textbook that I perhaps would prefer an apprenticeship system for everything, but it takes this inordinate amount of time. It takes two years to go through this program. So if you could imagine having spent that time because you may not have had the money or could not afford to attend beauty school without earning a living, so you thought this would be the best way to get to your license, and then after all that time, not passing your exam.

ASHLEY: Yeah, that’s horrible. I know that there are unique challenges from the level of each person individually in their circumstances, all the way up to each state and associations of states that have reciprocity and things like that. But our test in Illinois is actually administered by a government agency, by an entity, Health and Human Services. Whereas in some other States like California, there are businesses and companies that do these types of certification tests as their main gig. So you have the added layer of not being able to take the test in your native language or your most comfortable, everyday language, and then having to sit in a locked room with eight cameras on you while you answer multiple choice questions on a computer. That was my experience. Now, being a native English speaker and the test being administered in English, that was a cakewalk because I was very prepared, but I also didn’t have the extra obstacles of having to get over eight or nine different things in order to just take this test. So we really have to look at state by state the individual circumstances and just the hardships that someone has to overcome to do this, which are by and large created by the schools. There’s no national standard. The schools are making basically just money off of a headcount. I think it’s difficult to be profitable as a school, but I also think the corners that are cut are essential and necessary.

JAIME: Is it though really hard to be profitable because if you’re running a program where it’s long enough that students could qualify for financial aid from the federal government and that money has been paid to the school, do you really care about the quality of education that you’re providing? Do you care whether the student drops out? Do you care whether they’re able to repay their loan or get a job in the industry that will support their student loan payments? I question that because I don’t see it. I don’t see where where you go to school matters in the slightest because once you graduate and you apply for your license, take the exam, and obtain your license, that license is the same license no matter where you went to school within a state.

ASHLEY: True, but if you actually had a good educational experience where you were taught not only what was on the test, but things you’re going to encounter in the real world in the beauty industry, you have an absolute leg up on anyone else coming out of a beauty school where they were just told to read the book and clock in and clock out to get their hours. So I agree with you. I think that we all kind of start from zero as far as what beauty school means or a license means when you’re first starting out. It’s a piece of paper. You still have to kind of prove yourself, whether it be through the quality of your work, your ability to find clients, your ability to get a job at a salon that has the option to feed you clients, whatever that looks like. But the real failure here I think is that we missed the opportunity to create any kind of national standard. What we are presented with now is an opportunity. The industry is scattered, broken, rebuilding, whatever word you want to use, and as we see education move more and more online, just out of necessity, a lot of the problems that we’ve listed so far with beauty school and beauty education can sort of be alleviated by that. But there are just so many stakeholders that I think would keep us from moving forward. And that seems to be the running theme for a lot of the topics that we discuss on this podcast is that those who have a stake in any kind of changes made to our industry dig in their heels and really hold us back.

JAIME: That’s unfortunate because they could partner. They could be profitable producing more licensees rather than trying to make it expensive and difficult for those that they do have, or that they are able to recruit. So my issue with how this is set up is that there are so many assumptions in this. And one of those assumptions is that you need 1600 hours. I’m just throwing that number out there because it’s about the average when you take it across the country of beauty school training. And I use the word training very loosely. It’s hours on the clock, whether you’re actually in training or not. It’s 1600 hours to be minimally competent to do whatever it is that’s within that scope of practice. So for California, for hair, it’s something as basic as shampooing on through to the chemical services that come with hair, but also skincare and nails. So cosmetology encompasses hair, skin, and nails and yet we have these separate skincare and nail licenses as well.

ASHLEY: Right.

JAIME: But why 1600 hours? What’s so magical about the number 1600, other than it more than qualifies a program to be eligible for financial aid. 

ASHLEY: Yes

JAIME: What is so magical? Why are we working backward from the number when what we should be doing is looking at the practice of skin, hair, and nails and determining what are the most important things to know in practice.

ASHLEY: Yes.

JAIME: And how do we train those things? How do we convince students that once they graduate and they have their license that they must keep doing these things, particularly around cleaning?

ASHLEY: Yes.

JAIME: How long does it take for me to tell you this is the way this needs to be done, now do it every single time?

ASHLEY: An hour?

JAIME: That’s what I’m thinking. It shouldn’t take 200 hours. And what is so frustrating and we know that that time is not spent well, we’ve just gone through this process where I would say, let me just throw a number out there. Challenge me on it. I would say that nearly 75% or more of our industry did not realize before the coronavirus pandemic that their state board did not advocate for them. Like, hello, that’s day one beauty school. What is the state board? This is the state board. This is their mission. Okay, let’s move on to the next topic. That’s not something you should forget.

ASHLEY: I have two things that I want to make sure I bring up based on what you just said. The first one being that the 1600 hour number that just seems to keep floating around, we’ve yet to see any justification for why that is the number of hours needed, why that is the magic number. You mentioned that it fits the criteria for a federal educational loan, and that is a threshold that is very important. And I don’t think it can be overstated. It is very important to beauty schools. I believe it’s less important to beauty school students and here’s why. Access is determined by the price of admission, right? So if a beauty school sets a price at $10,000 to get your esthetician license, they’re the ones setting the market for that. They’re assisted by the state in saying you need this number of hours as long as it’s over, what is it 600, to be able to qualify for any type of federal loan program. You have these two things working in tandem to work against students because they have to, in order to learn these skills to get the license the state says they have to have, they have to somehow come up with 10 grand. Well, that weeds out a ton of people because not everybody has the same circumstances of access. Not everybody has the same credit score. Not everyone has the same support system, educational background, what have you. I hear all of the time that, and I’m going to get kind of personal here because this is something that makes me absolutely crazy pants, but when I am trying to advocate for nail technicians and I’m trying to even locally with my own association in Chicago, trying to say, we need more educational opportunities. We need CE classes and hours that are more relevant to what nail technicians are doing now. We need better business building for nail techs. The pushback I’m getting is, well, we can’t staff our nail departments that are full service salons because there just aren’t any nail techs coming out of the schools. So it’s less important. And now we see nail technicians coming out of the schools and going directly into a booth rental situation or a suite because full service salons just don’t tend to have nails anymore. So it’s this vicious cycle of not being able to get in on the ground floor with beauty school, because as you know, and I think all states but one, the requirement to become a nail technician as far as number of hours is well below 600. So you have to just find that money. The government’s not going to help you. You’re not going to be able to get a loan. You may have to take out a private loan, which the interest rates on that are ridiculous. And I know I’m kind of ranting here, but the beauty schools, again, kind of create this problem and this perfect storm of setting the pricing for these programs high enough that it’s unattainable for some, but they get their money either way. And those federal loan programs are their bread and butter. Just look at what happened with, I don’t know the name of the school chain off the top of my head, but the ones that closed in California, but they still got their cash. And now those students are left to have to pay for an education they’re not even going to receive.

JAIME: Marinello was the chain of schools that was most recently shut down.

ASHLEY: We kind of keep coming back and I know I’m like, I’m getting long winded about this, but it really bothers me because of course I’m a licensed nail technician and it’s the part of beauty that I love the most. But it’s dying on the vine because there’s not only a lack of access, but it’s being construed by the beauty schools as a lack of interest. Well, people just don’t want to become nail technicians anymore. They can just go work unlicensed. Who cares? So it’s a real missed opportunity. And then on the other side of that, you’ve got the extreme going the other way with cosmetology where you’re paying upwards of 25, $30,000 to get this education that does not prepare you to do what you are going to be doing every day, all day on clients. And so the second thing, we’re not even at the second thing yet, Jaime, the second thing that you mentioned is why are we teaching to the test if it’s not going to prepare you to really have any of the skills, except for very basic foundational skills. It’s almost like law school doesn’t prepare you to become a practicing attorney. You learn about torts, and you learn about all the important cases before the Supreme Court, and all of that. You learned that foundational knowledge of the law, but it doesn’t tell you what a pretrial conference is. It doesn’t tell you how to file a specific motion with the court you’re going to be working in. And so what if we were able to actually teach to those skills, like running a business, marketing yourself, knowing how to troubleshoot service failure, things like that?

JAIME: Then the question becomes while you can teach to it, can you test it?

ASHLEY: Well, that is the million dollar question.You can probably test to it, but then how do you maintain some type of level of ongoing benchmarks or check-ins on whether those things are happening. Just look at how many people took the Barbicide recertification and probably learned something they didn’t know, tens of thousands.

JAIME: And then others complained that it was so basic. 

ASHLEY: Yes. 

JAIME: Hello, it was not meant to be the graduate-level equivalent of a biology class.

ASHLEY: But that just shows how wildly the pendulum swings either way from someone saying, I can’t believe how basic this was. How dare you not know how to do this and be a practicing beauty professional, to the other side saying, oh, okay. Thank you. Now I have something tangible I can show my clients to say that I, I know what I’m doing, whereas the license should in general be that, but it’s this weird soup of like client apathy, public ignorance, I mean, and just ignorance, not in a spiteful way or to be mean, but just the public in general is ignorant of what we do and what we go through to even be able to do our jobs. Beauty schools that charge an exorbitant amount and just the lack of options for people to get into this industry. And then once they get in, they don’t have the skills that we were talking about just a few moments ago. And so they end up out of the industry in the first two years and it just keeps churning.

JAIME: They may stay in the industry, but if their state doesn’t have a requirement for continuing education, whatever horrible education they got into the industry with is what they are stuck with, unless they seek it out for themselves, which we know takes more time, more money, and it’s not something that’s required so it does tend to separate people, but they’re still holding the same license. As long as you know they’re paying their renewal fees on time. We hear the phrase barrier to entry a lot. When we talk about getting into this profession and some of the barriers I think are legitimate. For example, having a minimum age, I don’t think is bad. And if that number is 16, 17, whatever it is. Do I want twelve-year-olds doing professional beauty services? No, I do want a minimum age. Okay, so you have to be a certain number of years old. That’s not how mature you are or how smart you are. It’s that you can prove that you’re a certain age. And then there is a requirement that indicates that you have a minimum level of education. So whether in your state it’s 10th grade or eighth grade or whatever it is, some sort of equivalency, a high school diploma or a GED. That would give some indication that when you are presented material, particularly if it’s written material, that you can understand it in your salon, whether it’s laws about health and safety or tax law or labor law, I mean, there’s a lot to it. And so if we have these minimum standards of age and education level, that’s still a pretty low bar. There’s no test that you take to get into beauty school where you’re really being measured for your aptitude to do any of this. There’s no sense of whether you’re going to be good at this. They’ll take everybody. I mean, have you ever been in a situation where you were turned down? I think they would actually take people that wouldn’t even have the slightest possibility of being licensed because there may be some other disqualifying factor in their background that wouldn’t allow them to be licensed. And in the state of California, you know in the past, people might’ve thought, well, you can’t get licensed if you don’t have the proper immigration status, that’s not the case. You don’t need to have a social security number. You can have a federal identification number. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a social security number. There are some restrictions based on criminal background that may prohibit someone from being eligible to receive a license. Would a school put that front and center and ask those questions? I’m not even sure they’re allowed to. Because it may be a situation where you go through the process, and then you go to apply for your license, and you find out somehow that you’re disqualified for another reason.

ASHLEY: Which is scary. I think part of that too feeds into the stigma about entering beauty school and that it’s sort of a last resort option. It’s what you do after high school if you don’t have plans to go to a four year university. It takes everyone. And part of that is what I love about our industry, because there are members industry, like just with such diverse backgrounds and I think part of that is what makes our industry so great is that there isn’t this prerequisite test and knowledge that you have to have in order to be able to do this job. But that is sort of the number one thing thrown in our faces when you tell someone what you do. They go, oh, okay. And they know exactly what box to put you in and that they don’t need to speak to you anymore because what are you going to know? You just do hair or whatever. Insert name here. And that’s, I guess, part of the stigma of being a member of our industry. But then when you think about what’s happened in the last six months, our education has been the cornerstone that so many of us have stood on to say, we should be open. We are licensed. We’ve proven minimal competency. We know sanitation. But then you actually start looking at if anyone were to break that apart from outside of the industry, they would find just a whole bunch of problems with those statements. They’re inherently problematic because of all the reasons we’ve listed so far. There is no standard across states. There’s very low bar to clear as far as entering the industry. And we know that our experiences vary wildly on very basic parts of the education that all beauty pros should have which is sanitation, disinfection, and infection control in general. So I think we have to be careful with those broad sweeping statements of saying, well, I’m licensed, therefore, I can do whatever I want. I certainly would want to draw a lot of extra attention to that part of our industry. Because as soon as people outside of our industry,see how broken the beauty school system is, I think there’s going to be an uncomfortable level of attention. And the spotlight is not something that I think any of us want right now.

JAIME: And I tend to look at it from that perspective because if you’re going to defend yourself, you need to understand where you’re weak. And if you can say, well, I’m licensed. I should be able to do these things. The flip side of that is you’re licensed. You should know better, and it’s not that you know what to do. It’s, what is it that you’re actually doing? How compliant are you with existing law? How do we know to trust you with all of these new precautions and requirements that have become necessary because of this pandemic and when it’s become a life and death situation? Not that you’re going to give someone a bad haircut, or you might nick their skin during a service, it’s that this is so much more important than that. And to reflect on this idea of your story and how you come into the industry, I didn’t go to beauty school until after I had a four-year degree. 

ASHLEY: Me too.

JAIME: And, yeah, you too. And I remember looking around thinking, what do you mean I qualify for federal aid? I was only in a manicuring program and at the time it was 350 hours only. This was in California. And it was federally funded through the ROP and all I had to do was fill out a form. And I just thought, this seems strange, like it seems to me like this should be saved for someone who needed the money more than I did in terms of. The money didn’t come to me. It went directly to the school. Don’t get me wrong. But that it was this program by virtue of where I lived in the county, I was eligible for it. And of course, they’re just checking a box, right? And what I had to spend to go through beauty school other than the fact that obviously I wasn’t able to work during the hours that I was on the clock at the beauty school, I had to buy a kit that cost $180. 

ASHLEY: Wow.

JAIME: And it was a piece of crap. I mean, it was probably worth 10.

ASHLEY: It always is.

JAIME: But I had, yeah, but, and again, this was in 1991, but I had to buy a kit that was $180. And that was my investment for beauty school, 180 bucks. And my grandmother who was a beauty school dropout herself, because she went to school wanting to be a cosmetologist, but because she couldn’t attend schools on Saturdays, she had to drop out because they didn’t offer any flexibility around that. She thought this would be wonderful for me and she could sort of live vicariously through me getting my license. So she kindly gifted that money to me, in lieu of the fact that she didn’t celebrate birthdays and that sort of thing. So she was always looking for excuses, which again, I’m grateful for because she was hardly in the position to afford that herself, but it did really launch me into this career. And when I look back on it and now I think that is such a blessing that the school wasn’t charging $5,000 or whatever it was.  

ASHLEY: Yeah, that’s, that’s a good point. I had a totally different experience. My schooling costs $2,500 for my 300 hour nail technician license, but I had to go part time. So it took me almost seven months to be able to get my 300 hours just because I could only go on weekends and they were open a shorter number of hours on weekends, but I remember cashing out one of my 401k accounts from a previous one job that didn’t have much in it, but I took the penalty. I took the money out and I remember standing on the street with the cashier’s check that I needed to pay for it, just crying because it was real, and it was happening, and I couldn’t believe this thing that I had been pursuing for, I think, two years at that point was actually going to happen. I know not everybody has a 401k that they can just cash out and take a penalty on, or even a supportive family that wants you to pursue something like this. So I think, you know, a lot of the blame and the shame of that situation again goes back to the schools because you’re churning out a product, meaning people, that once they’re done with you, they’re done with you. You’ve paid your money. You’ve gotten your hours. It’s just this like a revolving door. And I don’t necessarily expect a beauty school to be, to act like an alma mater and have an alumni association or anything like that. But I just think it’s something that is ripe and ready for predatory behavior because you know you have to kind of pass through these turnstiles to get to where you need to go and so we’re going to take as much advantage of you while you’re here as we can.

JAIME: The idea though that there’s the predatory behavior that can happen, and typically it’s not students that are being predatory, but they can be part of a system that’s corrupt when beauty schools, knowing that the proof of training is required to apply for examination, will sell the proof of training without requiring the student to actually attend school. 

ASHLEY: Yes.

JAIME: And that actually happened to my sister, not to her specifically, but it was happening around her while she attended school in the same building that I had. But it was 15 years later after I had been licensed, and it had gone through a number of different owners, and the school was selling hours. I remember thinking when I went to beauty school that the quality of the education was so poor that surely someone at the state would be concerned about the quality of the education. Isn’t there some sort of agency overseeing the system that would care that we don’t have a dedicated nail instructor, that we’re left to our own almost all the time, that there’s very little supervision? We’re just told to read a chapter, and just do this thing, and work on each other, and there was a prohibition against working on paying clients, and by paying clients, I mean, clients that pay to the beauty school, not to you. For the first 50 hours that you were enrolled, you were supposed to be learning and practicing on your fellow students. But that goes out the window because they want you engaged in earning money for them. 

ASHLEY: Yes.

JAIME: And writing down these operations that you’re required to do at the time. So I remember actually writing a letter to the state complaining about the quality of education, and it came as a brutal fact check that the education does not matter, the quality does not matter. But what does matter is the money. So by the time my sister went to beauty school, and there was this issue, and it was quite obvious. And I could just give you a brief overview. What was happening was and this will date us, is that the beauty school students would have to punch into a time clock just like you were on a job. So if you can think of an old time machinery, and what would happen was the instructor or the person in charge of the school would walk around with her lab coat on. And she had this stack of time cards in her pocket that belonged to students who were enrolled. So they were on the books as taking part in the program, but she was the one clocking them in and out. They didn’t show up to school. They were doing other things like going to work, or whatever else they were doing. It was like an open secret that this was happening. And yet you have other students who are coming to school every day, and they’re doing the work, and putting in their hours, and yet at the end of all of this, they would end up with the same license. And we knew those students, because this program happened to depend very heavily on ROP and also an affiliation with the local school district, we knew that’s where we had them because the school district would not want to be involved in any fraud related to the federal government. 

ASHLEY: Sure.

JAIME: And that’s how that all came crashing down on the management and ownership of that particular school. But then of course,  once that goes away, you’ve got this building and then the next school comes in. Eventually it was a Marinello school. And as we know what happened with that, that went away too, for, for a different type of fraud. They were actually churning out, if I remember correctly, they were, recruiting people off the streets, like literally off the streets and if they didn’t qualify because they didn’t have their GED, they were running a GED mill on top of getting them through that process in order to get them enrolled into the beauty school so they could then take federal loan money and give it to the school. And who’s on the hook for that? The student. 

ASHLEY: Always. So I think we’ve, we’ve made the case for how the beauty school system, as it stands right now in general, could use some reform. But it seems that every time this topic comes up and we start bouncing ideas around of how we could remove some of those barriers to entry, we could create a more consistent workforce for salons. We could meet the need of different parts of the country for the different types of services that are most popular there. We can create more business owners. We can create more self-sufficient workers. We can then create more tax revenue for our cities and states. And because this is a pretty inclusive industry, as far as not needing to have a ton of additional education or specific skills to join, this is a fabulous gateway to leaving poverty, to kind of leveling the playing field based on whatever advantages or disadvantages you had growing up, or where you live, or what neighborhood you came from or whatever. But when reform starts to actually turn into solid steps, I find that there’s a lot of gatekeeping that’s happening from former beauty school students who are now working professionals. And they say, well, if I had to pay that money, if I had to jump through those hoops, if I had to sit for that many hours filing a nail or working on a mannequin head, why shouldn’t they? You know I had to run this gauntlet. I have the debt to prove it. So if you’re going to make this easier, you need to cancel my debt. If you’re going to make it easier for them, you have to make it easier for me as well. And I think that’s kind of the number one obstacle I’m seeing, or at least the most vocal obstacle to making any real change to the system. Is that, does it devalue your experience If moving forward, the experience looks completely different?

JAIME: I’d want to be part of the solution. I look back on what I had to go through and I realize it wasn’t nearly as taxing as what other people had to and that’s because I chose to pick the course that was the shortest, which was manicuring. And I was fortunate enough to be in a position at a school where they did have this program and it didn’t cost me money out of pocket. Now that just happened to be fortuitous on my part. However, I think if we look at what’s better for the health of the industry overall, and I know it’s very difficult for some people to make some sacrifices, but is it really costing you anything more now? What did that experience get you other than the ability to gripe about it and complain about it? You should be, if that’s your position, you should be advocating and saying, I had to go through this. Future generations should not have to in the industry because it didn’t help me become a better professional. It actually limited my ability and why not use that experience as a means of improving our industry as opposed to holding it back?

ASHLEY: I totally agree with everything you’re saying, but I think if you want to look at how interested people are in the greater good, just look at mask use. It’s sort of this, like, let me slam the door behind me mentality of I had to overcome this. So now you have to, the gatekeeping, the competition, the secret keeping, the sabotage, the apprentice and unpaid assistant programs that salons are still running, that as well as a barrier to entry. And so that could go away if beauty schools would actually teach the relevant skills that someone would need to hit a salon floor running. That is part of why I was in the support of some of these on-demand beauty app because it really helped build your skills. It really helped get your service timing down. It really helped to make you fast and efficient. It was stressful as heck, but it gave you the skills that beauty school was supposed to have given you. Those are a whole other issue as far as the legality of them, and whatever and mobile services, blah, blah, blah. But a lot of the predatory practices that I think are in place in salons now such as requiring someone to be an apprentice, or an assistant, or a shampoo assistant for a year or two before they’re allowed to see their own clients making hopefully minimum wage, but who even knows. That would all go away if you had the ability to actually learn the relevant skills to your job in the school that you’re paying to teach you exactly that.

JAIME: If I took 10 wannabes off the street and locked them in a room with us for 10 hours, I think they could come out, not knowing everything, but knowing enough that they would be safe to start working on clients. They’re not going to be masters at any of this, but if we could tell them something once, and they absorbed it, and could apply it, and we could move on to the next subject, I think there’s this opportunity to take what it is that we feel that is most important. Again, we have to apply a standard here and we have to prioritize, but if we started with what is most important for a professional to know, and worked backwards from that, which is actually working forwards. I mean, what’s been happening, has been working backwards from this number and trying to fill out 1600 hours, which is insane. What we should be doing is saying, this is what you need to know. What’s the most efficient way to deliver this content, whether it’s online or in person, or through practical instruction where you’re supervising someone working hands on, or whether it’s through direct instruction? There’s just so many different factors here, but we have to start with that core knowledge and if the industry could agree on that across state lines, that would be the foundation for a national exam. And then everything else that would flow from that, whether it be specific rules about cleaning or any other things that I think are actually important for students to know, but they don’t get tested. So all that information about workers’ rights, and tax and labor law, all that stuff, which I feel is so incredibly important, not that beauty school instructors should be teaching it, but it should be information that’s part of a curriculum, that’s not getting tested.

ASHLEY: It sure isn’t and that’s just one more example of predatory behavior in our industry that could be avoided, or at least have some of the air taken out of its sails, if someone came out of beauty school knowing their rights, knowing about the different employment designations and classifications, and knowing about commission only and not making at least the federal minimum wage. So this cycle just continues to feed and churn because someone at every step of the way is benefiting from the status quo, whether it’s the beauty school owners, the salon owners. I mean, you just take it all the way around. It’s like almost like the life cycle of a bug. You know, it starts as a larva and if you could just kind of turn that whole thing where we become a bug, and you can just see how someone’s making money off of you, and assuming ignorance, and then actively maintaining that ignorance so that as you move to the next stage, you can get taken advantage of all over again.

JAIME: You make an excellent point when you clarify that there are gatekeepers and there are stakeholders at every step of this process, and it really will take someone or some entity to say, why? Why are we doing it this way when we’re not getting the results that we want? When students are failing the test? When consumers aren’t being protected as well as they should? When there’s misclassification happening in salons? When there are beauty school owners complaining that recent graduates don’t have the skills? I mean, we can go on and on and on. That’s a system that’s not working.

ASHLEY: It’s not, and it could be working harder for all of us. This isn’t something that you should have to overcome. You know, you’re overcoming being able to even get into beauty school in the first place, and you’re overcoming a bad curriculum and bad education, and then you’re overcoming the fact that you’re making $8 an hour for the first two years in this industry. If you want to talk about the attrition rate, and why that’s happening and why it’s so difficult, and why so many salons are always hiring, it’s because each step of the way there are things that have to be overcome, and it is absolutely time for massive reform in our industry. It’s just how big of a voice do we need in order to make that happen. And I think there isn’t a voice big enough, or at least there isn’t a single voice big enough. We got to do it together.

JAIME: We have to do it together, or we have to decide whether we’re going to be part of the solution or continue to be the problem. And so that would be the challenge I would issue to any of the stakeholders in this, whether it’s a textbook publisher, like who said, you needed to have a full color like, does that make the education any better that you throw a lot of pictures in there that’ll be dated within your six months of publication because styles change so quickly? I mean, do we really need that? Do we need it to be in person when we could possibly deliver most if not all of this content through online learning? Do we even need a practical examination if it’s become a pantomime that we perform on a mannequin head or on a dummy hand, as opposed to being on a real person, which I’m not advocating for that because that would have been another barrier was, you know, finding someone who can go with you to this exam. So at every step of the way, we do have improvements. And I think it is fair, entirely fair, for us to not only examine what role we play and the role that we occupy now, which for myself, is that of a licensee, and a salon owner who has employees, and as someone who, if we did have continuing education requirements, would be interested in offering that if that were the case in California. So that’s where I’m coming from. I’m very transparent about that. So I’m going to look at myself and critique what role I play, but then I’m also going to take a look at every other role and try to understand as much as I possibly can about how we got here. What forces were in play and how we can move on from there? Because it’s quite possible that the circumstances, and the conditions, and the forces that brought us to this point don’t exist anymore, or have changed so drastically, that it no longer applies. It’s no longer valid.

ASHLEY: Yeah, just look at how much skill building is being done over YouTube or through online education now, just based on the fact that we need to socially distance. It’s a lot, and it’s in general practical knowledge. It’s skill building where you’re seeing people demonstrating on mannequin heads or, practice hands or whatever. So it can be done. It is definitely something that is possible. It’s just how resistant are the powers that be going to be in trying to maintain the current system and that’s kind of the big question mark, at least in my mind.

JAIME: Yeah, I have some ideas. I think it’s going to take people from outside of our industry looking at this and saying, why? Like, why does this function like this? And if that is being done by legislators, I think that’s probably our best chance.

ASHLEY: And I think it might even come in the form of deregulation which is very scary to me. I think we, we’re both on record wanting to maintain the licensing system, just as a matter of public safety, but it may be a trade off. We avoid deregulation by overhauling how we learn our craft.

JAIME: Yes, how we qualify for that license.

ASHLEY: Exactly. Well, very nice discussion.

JAIME: We didn’t solve this problem in just this short time period, but I think we’ve brought up enough of the different points, the different angles, really that we can approach this from, and we have to be prepared to talk about all of them. And I know that we weren’t doing it in any particular order, or even order of importance, but as we start developing these ideas, it does need to come together as an argument that we can present that makes sense to people who are outside this industry.

ASHLEY: Definitely. And especially people who have very limited interaction with our industry, which is almost all legislators. I’m looking at you, gentlemen, and your hair cuts. So definitely an ongoing conversation, but we are looking forward to your input, dear listener, in what you are feeling about this, thinking about it, what solutions are coming to your mind? One of the best ways that you can interact with us, of course, is by following us on Instagram at @outgrowthpodcast or leaving us a review. What do you think, Jaime? Shall we read a review?

JAIME: Yes. We have one that I want to read.

ASHLEY: Okay.

JAIME: Yes. So this is from Alicia: Hands down, the best industry podcast. I look forward to Mondays just so I could listen to the newest Outgrowth podcast. I have learned more than I ever thought I needed to know. I planned my six and a half hour drive to San Diego to include bingeing on Outgrowth podcast, dating back to your first one. Thank you for being relevant and thinking outside the box. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to part one of money matters. I can’t wait for part two. Outgrowth has officially replaced most of my music listening during my 30 minute commute. Cheers.

ASHLEY: Wow. Well, I think our voices are very melodious so I can see why you’d replace music with us. Just kidding. That’s not true. Thank you so much, Alicia. That is outstanding, and for your support, of course, of the podcast. If you’d like to have your review read on the next episode, you can subscribe, rate, and review Outgrowth on your favorite podcast platform. It helps the algorithm of your favorite podcast platform recommend us to more listeners, which we really appreciate.

JAIME: As always you can follow us in and comment on recent episodes on Instagram at @outgrowthpodcast.

ASHLEY: Okay, well until next week, Jaime. 

JAIME: Be smart. 

ASHLEY: Be safe.

JAIME: Bye.

ASHLEY: Bye.

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