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Skills gap looms as stylists cut and run

The uk's hairdressing industry is regarded as a world leader and business is booming in the high street. Last year customers made 340 million visits to salons and lavished pound;5 billion on the latest styles and hair products. But while television programmes like Cutting It and The Salon have given the trade's image a makeover, the industry's growth is held back by a chronic shortage of skills.

Amid claims that we are becoming a nation of hairdressers and despite the industry attracting 25,000 new recruits each year, a high proportion of trainees are still not cutting it. Last year, 44 per cent of such apprentices dropped out before reaching level 2. On advanced apprenticeships, 58 per cent failed to complete level 3.

A shortage of supervisory and management skills is also a problem, according to the latest Adult Learning Inspectorate's annual report on the business. "The world of hair and beauty exercises a glamorous appeal to young people who are often blithely unaware of the physical and mental demands of the job and who drop out when reality hits home," it says.

Co-ordination of training is poor and employers have very limited involvement in learners' progress towards formal qualifications, the inspectorate says. The industry association Habia estimates that the sector has 37,000 vacancies. It blames poor retention rates on apprenticeships, high staff turnover and having to compete with a wider variety of education and training options. FE colleges' record in training for the industry is also patchy, says Andrew Darby, Habia's deputy chief executive.

While apprentices training in industry get four days in a salon and one day with a training provider, he says, those attending college full time sometimes receive limited on-the-job training. "The quality of some of the training is questioned by employers," he says. "One reason for that is because of the funding pressures the colleges can only deliver 15 hours contact time each week."

Hairdressing is one of the iconic jobs of the early 21st century, according to a report last year from think tank the Work Foundation. It was the single fastest-growing occupation in the Nineties. Numbers working in it grew by 302 per cent between 1992 and 1999. Currently in the top 10 career choices for teenage girls, it continues to be female dominated. Yet a survey of skills and training by Habia has found recruitment difficulties.

Last year hair and beauty group Saks was awarded all grade ones by the ALI for its training. Tina Rook, the company's head of education, said recruitment is hit by increasing numbers of 16-year-olds staying on in education.

"There's a tug of war going on with schools because government incentives now try to keep people on to get more qualifications.

"As an industry, we want them to leave at 16 and join an apprenticeship so when they are 18 or 19 they are fully qualified stylists."


* The hair industry has around 31,000 businesses and some 180,000 employees.

* It is dominated by small salons. Three quarters have fewer than five staff.

* The industry has a recruitment shortage of 37,000.

* There are 100,000 in some form of training each year. The industry recruits 25,000 people every year.

* There have been more than 300,000 NVQs or SVQs awarded in the UK.

* 81% of staff have some qualification - 61% to at least level 2.

* Hairdressing is in the top 10 career choices for girls aged 14 to 18.

* Only 13% of hairdressing staff are male. Most women in hairdressing are under the age of 30.

* Staff turnover is relatively high, often due to family-related career breaks. A high number of women leave the industry but do not return.

* On average, people pay pound;32 for a cut and blow-dry, pound;35 for colour without cut, and pound;40 for a perm.

* The average household spends pound;140 a year on hairdressing, and Pounds 130 on hair products.

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