Top marks for hairdressing apprentices who overcame lockdown challenges
‘Lockdown hair’ may have provided a light-hearted talking point for many of us during the pandemic, but the closure of salons and barbers during 2020 and 2021 was hugely disruptive to those starting out in the industry as apprentices.
City College Norwich and its employer partners are now seeing the fruits of their efforts to keep these apprentices on track, with hairdressing apprentices whose training was affected by the pandemic passing with flying colours.
When the coronavirus lockdowns hit, salon owners and the college’s apprenticeship assessors had to devise new ways for apprentices to keep developing their skills and knowledge.
Apprentices were supplied with hairdressing training heads (like the one pictured), so they could continue to work on their styling skills in the absence of real clients.
Salon and college staff, who were themselves working from home, worked with the apprentices over platforms such as Zoom to provide practical, interactive training sessions using the training heads.
The apprentices were also able to tap into a wealth of free training videos and online resources that were made available by leading industry brands, including Wella and Davines.
City College Norwich has seen a total of 15 hairdressing apprentices whose training was impacted by the coronavirus lockdowns go on to successfully complete their apprenticeship, which culminates in a 6-hour practical exam (the End Point Assessment).
Of these, 11 apprentices achieved a distinction mark of 90% or over, which is significantly above the numbers of apprentices achieving this grade nationally.
Tracey Upson, Hairdressing Apprenticeship Assessor, City College Norwich, said:
All our hairdressing apprentices worked extremely hard during lockdown and embraced the new ways of learning. We all had to get creative, finding new ways of teaching and learning, as well as sharing each other’s successes. All the apprentices were supported by their employers and the college to maintain and carry on improving the skills they needed for when they returned to the workplace.”
Rocio Pajuelo, co-owner of Flint, on Upper Goat Lane in Norwich, recalls that it was an incredibly difficult and uncertain time for everyone in the industry:
We employed 16 people in all, and it was very scary. Every bit of money that we made we invested in having a better salon, having more environmental fittings, on education for the team, so we didn’t have a massive cushion.”
However, everyone pulled together to try and make the best of the situation and to help the apprentices carry on learning and developing. Rocio continues:
It was difficult for us, because we always work with real models when we are teaching our students. It’s not just about the technical side of hairdressing, it’s also about the experience, it’s about how you look after your client.
We were very used to working with models, but we soon put that to rights and a big box of training heads arrived, so the apprentices and other members of the team were able to carry on practicing at home. It wasn’t easy, but it was definitely one of the things that helped them to not lose that momentum.
We tried to turn lockdowns into a positive. We didn’t know how long we were going to be at home for, but we continued developing our skills. We turned it into a learning opportunity. It was also guided by the college, who were great at saying, come on, we’re carrying on, we’re here to support you with your apprentices.”
Rachel Willis joined Flint as an apprentice after completing her A Levels:
I always knew I wanted to do hairdressing”, she says, "I like being able to make people feel comfortable about themselves, because hair is an important way for people to express themselves and it affects how they feel. And it’s good to be able to give people an enjoyable experience.”
Reflecting on her experiences as an apprentice during the coronavirus pandemic, Rachel adds:
It was a little tricky because it was a bit stop-start, but this gave us the opportunity for extra training. Both Conor and Rocio and City College were amazing at providing this.
We learnt through group video calls and training heads, which gave you more time to think about the techniques and what you were doing.
Completing the End Point Assessment felt like a real achievement.”
Lottie Travis joined the team at Flint following several years in other jobs and coming to the realisation that she really wanted to work as a hairdresser, a career she had held a strong interest in doing since her school days. Lottie says:
I didn’t start the apprenticeship until the January of 2020, so I was only at college for about 3 months and then everything shut down.
City College were very good and very quickly got things up and running with online sessions. We picked up training heads quite quickly. And Conor [O’Brien, co-owner of Flint] often jumped on the group Zoom sessions. I think I learnt highlights and graduation during lockdown!
It was quite difficult because there was no-one there, physically, to check your angles or your technique, but it was just nice to have that touch base every so often.
It felt like lockdown could have set us back, and that your finish line was just so much further away, but actually Tracey and Charlene, our City College assessors, were very on it, and every week we had sessions, we were set tasks, which got us through it.”
Acknowledging that lockdown was tough in lots of other ways besides its impact on their apprenticeship training, Rocio says of Rachel and Lottie’s achievements:
They were very, very determined. They both got distinctions, which is even more impressive because the apprenticeship had changed quite a bit within that period and it was the first time that we were doing an End Point Assessment. There was a lot of new things, and a lot of unknowns. They were both incredibly resilient and they just got down to it.”