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Apprentice to entrepreneur: Lessons from 20 years in hairdressing

To kickstart National Apprenticeship Week 2024, we caught up with owner of JC Hair Design, Jade Coulthard, who champions this year’s theme ‘Skills for life.’ Jade reflects on a career spanning 20 years, starting as an apprentice at the age of 16, to opening her own salon in the summer of last year.  

From navigating a health crisis that almost led her to quit her dream job, Jade showcases her ability to overcome challenges with resilience and determination. As an advocate for continuous learning, she demonstrates the importance of skills that extend far beyond the technical skills of hairdressing.  

Remembering my first cut

I started my apprenticeship 20 years ago. As soon as I turned 16, I started calling around hair salons and got my first job at Errol Willy’s in Roath as a Saturday girl and did training nights until I finished high school and then started full time.  

I think I felt more grown up, being in a salon and going to work. I was surrounded by adults. Training is much better on the job. What I liked most about it was, although we had a trainer coach, you could watch other hairdressers in the salon who would inspire and motivate you.

I remember my first cut. I was so nervous and felt that I had to be good, because I knew they were paying customers. I worked there for 16 years and did my Level 2 and 3 in Hairdressing. I also qualified as an assessor and had the opportunity to train new recruits.  

The doctors told me to quit my job

When I was training, I had really bad skin and everyone said to me, “Don’t worry, you’ve just got bad dermatitis.” I had an all over colour put on when I was 17 years old and had a serious reaction. But it wasn’t until I qualified that I was able to get tested. That was when I found out that I was allergic to bleach and hair dye.  

My friends and family were worried about me. There was one time I couldn’t hold cutlery because my fingers were so swollen, and the lines were split on my hands. I had to wear gloves that covered my arms.  

I was absolutely gutted when the doctor sat me down and said you need to think about a new career. I couldn’t believe it. I just qualified as a hairdresser. However, there are ways that you can manage it; you just have to ensure that you take precautions when using chemicals.  

Opening my own hair salon

After 16 years of working in the same salon, I needed to progress and give myself a challenge. Working in a salon for somebody can feel like a conveyor belt sometimes, one in and one out. I wanted to take my time with the client. I feel like you give a better service when you’re not rushing. You can make your own rules when you work for yourself.  

Opening my own salon, gave me the opportunity to create a space that I loved and was proud of. As soon as people walk in, they say how nice it is. Designing a workspace that truly reflects my personality has made coming to work more enjoyable.  

A lot of people said to me, “Are you sure that you’re doing the right thing, you don’t even know if anyone is going to want to work with you?” And I didn’t, but you’ve got to take a chance. Life’s too short, if there’s something you want to do, just do it.

Building a social media presence

You can’t not be on social media. Social media is where everyone spends their time. My first ever story that I did, I was so nervous. I thought, I really want to start talking to the camera because it helps to build your social media presence.  

If you can try and connect with the owner or the staff, it makes your salon more inviting. It gives it personality. Clients that come in say, “I feel like I already know you,” because they see me posting all the time.

It takes the fear away from people approaching you and it makes people feel familiar and more comfortable. You don’t have to pay for it, so why not utilise it.  

You’ve got to start somewhere

When I first started, I actually hated hairdressing, just because I thought I wasn’t very good with people. I remember having meetings and my boss would say, “You need to talk to people.”

I didn’t like looking in the mirror or communicating. I was worried that they didn’t know what I was doing, but everyone has got to start somewhere. You’ll get where you need to be if you put your mind to it.  

I thought long and hard for four years before I opened my own business. But if you really want to do it, just go for it. Try and get people to help you mentally. Do your research and make sure it’s what you want.  

Dreaming about the salon

Doing my assessor training, I’ve already had experience working and training staff and I love it. I love the education side. I’d really like to take on an apprentice. I would love a little mini me. Someone I can mould to my way of working.  

My goal for this year, is to get this place full. I want my chairs full up with hairstylists and want that buzz in the salon. That’s what I’m pushing for.

If you’re interested in apprenticeships and want to know how they can benefit you or your salon, get in touch.

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