We explore some of the practicalities of taking on an apprentice, including the ‘grab a grand’ scheme, apprentice pay rates and the new Trailblazer standards. We also hear from the inspirational Melissa Timperley who started out as an apprentice with Sassoon and now runs an award-winning salon in Manchester.

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What’s new?

Make sure you understand the changes that came into effect in May last year. In England only, apprenticeship frameworks are being phased out and replaced by ‘Trailblazer’ standards.

“Trailblazer standards for level 2 are now government-approved and they are set at a higher standard as they include a wider range of skills than the older apprenticeship frameworks; with Trailblazer standards, apprentices will develop all the skills they need to work in a salon or barbershop,” says Hilary Hall, CEO of the NHF, which offers Members free apprenticeship agreements for salons across the UK, including the new Trailblazer agreements for England.

Reforms are also underway in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – check online for updates at Skills Development Scotland (www.skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk), Welsh Government (gov.wales) and the Northern Ireland Assembly (www.niassembly.gov.uk).

Retain your salon staff

‘Grab a grand’ if you take on a young salon apprentice

If your barbershop business has fewer than 50 employees, you and your training provider will each receive an incentive payment of £1,000 for each 16-18-year-old (or 19-24-year-old who has been in care or has a local authority care plan) apprentice you take on. Find out more about the funding you may be entitled to on the GOV.UK website.

Apprenticeship levy and funding for hair and beauty salons

From 6 April 2017, employers who have a pay bill of over £3 million a year must pay an apprenticeship levy.

If you do not have to pay the levy and don’t qualify for the ‘grab a grand’ scheme (see above) you will need to pay 10% (around £900) towards the cost of training and assessing your apprentice, with the government paying 90%.

Case study: from apprentice to award-winning salon owner

We catch up with NHF Member Melissa Timperley, an academic high achiever who left school at 16 to follow her passion for hairdressing. Thanks to her single-minded dedication and sheer hard work, she is now the owner of a multi award-winning salon in Manchester’s fashionable Northern Quarter.


When and how did your passion for hairdressing begin?

I’ve always been passionate about hair and have photos of me at age three with all my dolls’ hair done in a range of plaits and updos!

It wasn’t easy for me to go into hairdressing as I did well academically and my parents would ideally have wanted me to take a different career route. But they could see that this was what I wanted to do so they agreed that I should train with the best and I joined Sassoon in Manchester as an apprentice aged 16.

How did you make sure you got the most out of your apprenticeship with Sassoon?

I loved learning precision cutting techniques and making the client journey special. The Sassoon training for cutting and colour is regarded as the most rigorous in the industry and I lapped it all up.

I enjoyed much less the ‘drudge’ side of being an apprentice as I was ambitious and wanted to move much faster than the process allowed. But it’s important to recognise that you must learn all aspects of the profession thoroughly. 

What qualities do you look for when taking on an apprentice?

We want someone who sees hairdressing as a profession, not just another job. That’s the base level for me. Add to that a warm and friendly personality, an eye for what a beautiful haircut and colour looks like, and the determination and resilience to learn their craft – as well as make mistakes along the way.

How do you keep your apprentices motivated?

The ingredients for success lie partly with the individual’s passion for the industry and their willingness to learn. The other element is the interest and personal support given by salon management. We see, and treat, our apprentice Halle as a key member of our team and vital to our future success. We ask a lot, but we try to give a lot too. We will be in it with her through thick and thin to help her achieve her ambitions with us.  

What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming an apprentice in the hair and beauty industry?

Make sure that you are really focused on making a career in hairdressing before you take on an apprentice role – don’t just fall into it because you can’t think of anything else to do. You need to have a vision of how you will use your talent and creativity, and a sense of who you are and what you want to do. 

Try to learn from the very best, watch how they do things, how they consult with clients, how they cut and style, the techniques they are using and why, how they talk to clients and so on. Take every opportunity to get further education from shows and training inside and outside your salon. 

Read the industry magazines to keep up with the latest trends and what’s happening in our great business. With the support of your salon management, enter competitions. Our own apprentice, Halle, came third in her first ever competition last year and now she’s got the confidence to do more, keep growing and be the best that she can personally be.


Guide to apprenticeships

If you’re thinking of taking on an apprentice, find out more by downloading the NHF’s free expert Apprenticeships Guide. NHF Members also benefit from free apprentice agreements, help and advice from our friendly membership team on 01234 831965 and access to the free 24/7 legal helpline.

Pay rates for hair and beauty apprentices: don’t be caught out

From April 2018, apprentice rates will rise from £3.50 to £3.70 an hour.

But don’t be caught out: an apprentice aged 19 or over must get the National Minimum Wage appropriate for their age in the second year of their apprenticeship. For example, £5.90 (from April 2018) for 18-20-year-olds.

It’s important to get this right because employers who underpay can be fined up to £20,000 and publicly ‘named and shamed’ by the government.

Apprentices: a top source of talent

A survey of over 2,000 senior HR professionals carried out by Alexander Mann Solutions found that a third of businesses believe apprentices will be a valuable source of emerging talent in 2018.

However, official figures show a further decline in the number of people starting apprenticeships, with a 27% drop from August to October in 2017, compared with the same period in 2016. Figures for hairdressing, barbering and beauty apprenticeships have not fallen as steeply (around 8%, 11% and 9% respectively), but a 2017 survey carried out by the NHF found that 39% of hairdressing, barbering and beauty employees found recruiting apprentices difficult, while 33% find it very difficult.

NHF CEO Hilary Hall said: “Unfortunately, many salons are currently struggling to recruit apprentices, but don’t give up. Employing an apprentice is your chance to offer someone a great opportunity while also growing your own loyal talent and bringing a young person’s energy, creativity and ideas to your business.

“As an industry, we need to do more to attract talented young people into apprenticeships. This may include paying more than the National Minimum Wage or taking on older apprentices who tend to learn much more quickly and therefore become income earners more quickly, even though they cost employers more.”

Guide to management performance


NHF Members can download our free guide on managing staff and performance appraisals. Not yet a Member? Join for less than 75p a day

Salon apprenticeships checklist

  • Check out the Trailblazer standards for England.
  • Keep an eye on reforms in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
  • ‘Grab a grand’ if you take on a young apprentice.
  • Understand the apprenticeship levy and funding if you’re a very large employer.
  • Don’t be caught out by apprentice pay rate rules.