A long, long time ago I was taught a most valuable educational lesson, which I credit with making my school, the Carlos Valenzuela Academy in Scottsdale, a success in the 1990’s. The lesson came from Arizona School of Architecture who, when noticing that too many graduates were struggling on the job, took it upon itself to create a stronger relationship with employers in the form of focus groups, surveys, and internships. All of these with one single purpose: find out what the employer really needed, then go back to the curriculum and teach it. Bingo.
I forever resisted my school becoming a series of well-designed lessons complying with State Board, the Department of Education, The Accrediting Commission, and resources provided by suppliers of education and products with the overriding motto, “we have always done it this way.”
I started rotating my instructors on Tuesday afternoons and asking them to visit 3-4 salons with a quick mini survey that basically asked, “What does a new hire need to do when they first get here?” After weeks of visits, we tallied the answers and created a series of competency experiences given the last three months in our school. Our students could not graduate unless they passed these tests.
Here are some of the remarkable byproducts of doing the above:
1. We were shocked to learn that in our zeal to teach innovation the basic tasks needed the first six months on the job were buried and forgotten. In other words, the student knew what an undercut bob was about, but could not effectively shampoo a tint or round brush a long head of hair speedily.
2. The solution was not to stop innovation, but to bring back the review of the basic skills. Let’s face it; what a new hire will basically start by doing is assisting someone else in making more money.
3. We began teaching assisting by pairing senior students with beginning students. We taught to anticipate need, which is also the basis of excellence in customer service.
4. The biggest unexpected gain was that our enrollments went sky high. You know why? Because no school had ever asked salons what they want from graduates. Our sincere intention turned out to be the biggest public relations move in our school’s history.
Today’s digital student population challenges beauty schools because do not yet offer Wi-Fi. Still, the best motivator and means of communication is a showcasing of job realities and requirements. After all, this is why a student is in school.
No longer may one ask today’s student or employee to do something because “it’s good for them, or part of the job.” The direct application to job and income must be abundantly clear. This sounds to me like a need to spotlight the rewards of expertise in job entry skills.
How can an instructor or a student assure himself or herself of this expertise? Simple. Go to a salon, ask and observe what a new hire does when they begin the job—make sure you can do it.
Carlos Valenzuela is a bilingual beauty industry consultant, educator, cosmetologist and author of i-Fabulous Salon Success a DVD program for new professionals with lessons on narrowing the gap from school to salon.
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