By Jacq Lacy
On Saturday mornings, Beau Monde College of Hair Design in downtown Portland is high energy. Dozens of customers saunter through the door to get their hair cut, colored or styled. Both night-school and day-school students arrive early to prepare their chairs for customers and practice cuts and styles on their real-haired mannequins. Teachers wander through the aisles making sure every service is correctly performed. The crowd of male and female, young and middle aged students attends the school to study the art of making people beautiful.
These students have chosen this field because the Oregon hair design industry holds promise of unusually high job placement, job security, flexible hours and profitability. The Oregon Health Licensing Agency issued 21,187 hair design licenses this year, an increase of 241 licenses issued since 2008.
"Everyone on the planet gets a haircut," Dianna Peterson, owner of Beau Monde, said. "You can't outsource it. It's not computerized. It's all skill. You never worry about someone taking over your position. We are kind of a recession proof industry. Even in Detroit you still see salons and people getting their hair done."
Hair design seems to grow as other cosmetology industries in Oregon fall to the wayside. Over the past three years, licenses in barbering have decreased by 17.1%, esthetics by 2.6% and nail technology by 7%.
"Skin care and esthetics will be first to go. Nails will be the next to go. But [clients] will not give up their hair color, their weaves, their crowning glory," Peterson said.
"It’s very fashion driven," says Joseph Climaldi, partial-owner and campus director of Phagans' School of Hair Design. "If it is in fashion to do hair, people will specialize in hair. Nails have gone out of fashion."
Attendance at hair design schools is up, say teachers and directors of Oregon institutions.
“We have more people wanting to come than we have space here. Our biggest challenge is finding room," said Denise D'Angelo, a faculty advisor at The School of Hair Design at Mt Hood Community College (MHCC).
The classrooms and studios of Oregon's beauty colleges are filled with students who want to work in a salon or open their own salon. The majority of students have already received community college degrees or attended four-year universities. Some pursue their bachelors while attending beauty school, such as the business administration students that want to start their own business in the fashion and cosmetology industry.
Business management, consumer psychology and customer service lessons can be found at many beauty schools. MHCC provides students with courses titled: Psychology of Human Relations and Workplace Communications.
After graduation most students find work as employees in a salon. Between 2008 and 2009, 100% of graduates reported to the Academy of Hair Design and the State of Oregon that they had found work after graduation. Other schools report similarly impressive placement.
"The [National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology] considers us a zero unemployment industry. You may not find your dream job, but you can find a job," D'Angelo said.
Although some small hair salons in rural areas noted a slight downturn of clientele and revenue, the majority of salons have hired an average of four new hair design specialists in the past two years. Most salons said they recruit students from nearby schools.
Pay usually begins at minimum wage in rural areas, and increases as students gain experience and acquire metropolitan clients. In Oregon a usual starting salary is about $20,000 per year; approximately $30-40,000 per year in the Salem and Portland areas. Students usually leave school with little debt since federal financial aid assists students with tuition costs raging between $15,000 and $25,000 for a 1-2 year cosmetology program.
At the end of the day Beau Monde students collect tips and log experience. Students pack up to go home. The long day has brought the students one day closer to jobs, entrepreneurship or both.
Jacq Lacy is an associate writer for Oregon Business.