Careermag: Hair and Beauty

Hair and beauty

Helping the world look and feel good

We are, of course, all different. We have slightly different tastes in food, clothes, music…and in the way we want to look when we face the world. The hair and beauty industry helps people achieve that look, with careers in barbering and hairdressing, beauty therapy and spa treatments among the many options available.

Types of apprenticeship

You could follow an apprenticeship in barbering, hairdressing, nail services and more with employers across the UK.

About the hair and beauty industry

Over 200,000 people work in hair and beauty across the UK according to the Hair and Beauty Industry Authority. You’ll find them in nail bars, spas, salons, barbers and specialist establishments (such as African-Caribbean hair salons). Together they add some £6.2billion to the UK economy every year, and the good news is that as long as those hairs and nails keep growing, the customers are going to keep on coming. Scissors on standby…

What can I do?

Some of the careers available in the industry are ones you’d expect. They might include working in a hairdressing salon as a stylist, for example, or in a barber’s shop shaping and trimming facial hair as well as cutting the stuff on top of our heads. Within those locations there are other roles, too – you might specialise in colouring hair, putting in extensions or even managing the salon.

Similarly, you could be shaping, polishing and decorating nails in a nail bar, or offering a range of services in a spa. They might include massages and therapies, hand and feet treatments or body waxing. Alternatively, you might focus on facial treatments or makeup, or use the whole body as your canvas and work in spray tanning.

As well as these roles there are more specialist areas where you can use your skills. For example, some makeup artists go on to work in the fashion industry, helping models prepare for photoshoots or catwalk shows; or they can be found in film, TV and theatre, giving performers the right look.

You may also end up running your own business – some 40% of those working in the industry are self employed, according to Habia.

Fashion and beauty skills

To get ahead in fashion and beauty you’ll need a range of personal and professional skills. That includes proficiency with the tools of the trade – scissors, razors, brushes, dyes and more – and skilled hands, but also great people skills. You’ll be spending a lot of time getting quite close to people, so you need to be friendly, calm and confident to put them at ease.

Just as important is a passion for fashion, as trends and styles are evolving all the time so you’ll need to keep up. You’ll also need to stay up to date with the latest products and techniques, so you can provide your clients with the best service.

You’ll develop lots of these skills during your training, but a love of fashion and beauty can’t be taught – so if you have it already, it’s a good chance to turn that passion into a great career.

Fashion and beauty careers

Roles available might include:

Beauty therapy – beauty therapist, makeup artist, beauty consultant, beauty massage therapist

Hairdressing and barbering – barber, stylist, hairdresser, colourist

Nail services and spa therapy – nail technician, spa therapist

In all these areas there are also administrative roles (such as receptionists) and the chance to progress to senior positions such as supervisor or manager.

Getting started

Rather than just grabbing the scissors and starting to snip, you can find apprenticeships and jobs in the industry at Habia, the industry authority, also has information on apprenticeships and what employers look for in their apprentices.

Routes into the hair and beauty industry include:

Vocational qualifications / A Levels
Scottish Vocational Qualifications
Foundation Degrees (England and Wales only)
Bachelors Degrees

Earn and learn

If you want to develop your practical skills, get some work experience and receive a nationally-recognised qualification, at the same time as earning a salary, then an apprenticeship might be for you. It’s a popular way to get into the hair and beauty industry.

You’ll train for two or three years, depending on the type of apprenticeship, splitting your time between working for an employer and going to college. At the end of that time, you might be offered a full time job, or you’ll be able to move on with lots of relevant skills and experience under your belt.

Hair and beauty apprenticeships include:

Beauty therapy
Nail services
Spa therapy

Each area is quite different and will demand different sets of skills, so employers will work together with learning providers (such as colleges) to put together a programme that will prepare you for the industry.

Levels of Apprenticeship

There are hair and beauty apprenticeships at two levels:

Level Two (Intermediate) – equivalent to GCSEs / Standard Grades

Level Three (Advanced) – equivalent to A Levels / Highers

In the case of spa therapy, which is a level three (advanced) apprenticeship, you’ll need to complete a level two qualification – in nail services or hairdressing, for example – first. There’s plenty of room for progression in spa therapy, too, by boosting your skills with qualifications in things like nutrition or first aid.

Life as a hair and beauty apprentice

First of all, do you like people? It’s a pretty essential part of the job: if you don’t fancy the idea of working close to, touching, chatting with and generally pampering people for most of your working day, this might not be the industry for you. Your clients will want someone they trust and enjoy being with to massage them, cut their hair or put on their makeup, after all.

What will I be doing?

There are no huge companies in this area, so chances are you’ll be part of a small team – the majority of salons employ fewer than ten people.

Some of the day to day activities will be fairly self explanatory: in hairdressing and barbering you’ll be learning to cut hair, for instance. But there’s more to it than that, as you’ll also pick up skills in styling, colouring, shaving, maintaining good hygiene in the salon and keeping track of appointments. In a spa you’ll learn about the different kinds of therapies, while in a nail bar you’ll have to learn about the various chemicals involved and how to use them safely, as well as working on your artistic flair.

Being an apprentice also means making the step from school or college into the world of work, which comes with its own set of responsibilities. That can be anything from making sure you arrive on time to having a good attitude when you’re asked to sweep the floor – everyone, even the top stylists in the world, started at the bottom, after all.

You’ll also need to strike a balance between work, study and socialising. But at least when you go out, you’ll be able to get ready in style using your newfound skills.

You could work in…


  • Barber’s shops
  • Nail bars
  • Spa facilities
  • Hotels and conference centres
  • Hair and makeup units on film and TV sets

Find apprenticeships and jobs in the hair and beauty industry near you at careermap

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