How to Become a Hairdresser
Have an eye for colour and great communication skills? Kick off your career path in hairdressing for a rewarding and exciting workplace.
What does a hairdresser do?
A career as a hairdresser means that you get to change people’s appearances – and consequently how they see themselves.
Like the beauty industry, it’s a brilliant career path for those who love building confidence in others, as well as flexing their creative muscles.
A hairdresser – or hair stylist – is someone involved in hair styling. But did you know that many hairdressers have speciality areas? For example, some are hair colour experts, some pride themselves on edgy cuts, some work exclusively on curly hair or have a reputation for their flawless hair.
Of course, there’s barbering, too, which can branch out into shaving, beard maintenance, and fades.
One of the best things about a career in the hairdressing industry is that it gives you the ability to work flexibly, as this is a role you can take on in a full-time or part-time capacity.
In terms of career progression, there’s a fairly linear path upwards in salons from junior stylist to creative director. Once you’re a qualified hairdresser, there’s also the possibility of opening your own salon if you’re business-savvy and great at engaging with customers. Alternatively, take those senior stylist skills and work in the film or theatre industries.
What qualifications are needed to become a hairdresser?
Most hair salons will require a level 2 or 3 NVQ (national vocational qualification) or diploma in hairdressing when they’re employing someone.
For a level 2 diploma, you’ll usually need two or more GCSEs (or equivalent qualification) in grades 9 to 3 (or A* to D, if you took them more than a couple of years ago!). The standard entry requirements are for a level 3, 4-5 GCSEs or equivalent in grades 9 to 4 (A* to C).
However, if you’re looking for apprenticeship options, you’re in luck. The entry-level Level 2 hair professional apprentice course, or a Level 3 advanced and creative hair professional apprenticeship course, can be completed while you work in a salon. Many employers are more than happy to support students as they learn.
Hairdressing apprenticeships can be completed in place of A levels, so if you’re not academically inclined and feel like a career in hairdressing is for you, then it’s a great option. Typically, intermediate courses require some GCSEs, including maths and English, while more advanced apprenticeships require 5+ GCSEs in grades 9 to 4 (A* to C).
Most hairdressing qualifications will go beyond instructing you in technical skills like shampooing and colour theory: they’ll teach you how to communicate with customers, deal with health and safety concerns, and in some cases, even impart valuable business skills.
Once you know the basics, the world is your oyster. You can take additional courses to specialise and grow your knowledge or learn from mentors along the way.
And if you’re thinking of branching out and opening your own salon, a course in business management could give you the confidence you need to make the leap.
How long does it take to qualify as a hairdresser?
Because it’s a vocational industry, and so many people take hairdressing courses part-time while they either work elsewhere or do an apprenticeship, the length of time it takes to qualify can vary.
Usually, courses run for 12-18 months, though there are fast-track courses available that speed the process along.
How much does a hairdresser earn?
The average reported salary for a hairdresser in the UK is around £24,500 per year. Junior stylist positions can pay around £16,000 per year – though that’s after you’re qualified, not whilst in an apprenticeship: the national apprenticeship wage is £4.30 per hour.
Of course, many hairstylists make more than that average: thanks to the advent of social media, plenty of stylists are building their online portfolios and getting much more exposure – and can therefore charge higher prices. Similarly, if you set up your own salon, you might well earn more.