How to Decide if an Esthetics Apprenticeship is Right for You

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What do the hits Titanic, Sex and the City, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Hunger Games, and Lincoln have in common? The makeup artist Anita Brabec. Initially getting her foot in the door as a minor actress playing a waitress in the 1989 TV movie My Boyfriend’s Back, Brabec got her first big break as a makeup artist when she worked on the set of Titanic. That year – 1997 – marked the start of her career as a major esthetician – a career that would be studded with multiple credits virtually each year up to the present.

Her story could be yours depending on your own professional goals and aspirations. However, before you start down the path towards fame, fortune, and glory – or maybe just a successful career as a local esthetician – you need to complete your education. This involves either formal beauty school or a state-board-of-cosmetology-approved apprenticeship.

Currently 12 states – nearly one-quarter of the nation – allow for esthetician apprenticeships in lieu of formal education. Two of those states will only permit you to engage in an apprenticeship if you can demonstrate that classroom education is not an option for you, for example if you live far away from an approved school.

Deciding whether an apprenticeship is right for you can be tricky, but before we delve into this issue let’s determine who actually has the option for an esthetician apprenticeship.

States that Allow Esthetician Apprenticeships

If your state is not listed below, then it doesn’t allow esthetician apprenticeships.

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For the states that do allow apprenticeships, these are listed with the number of hours you must complete as an apprentice to qualify for your esthetician license.

  • Alabama – 2,000 hours
  • Alaska – 350 hours
  • Delaware – 1,200 hours
  • Hawaii – 1,200 hours, or a combination of school and apprenticeship hours on a 1:2 equivalency (one hour of school equals two hours of apprenticeship, and vice-versa)
  • Maryland – at least six months and at least 30 hours per week
  • Michigan – at least six months
  • Missouri – if you cannot complete school you must provide a valid reason, and upon approval complete 1,500 hours of apprenticeship
  • New Hampshire – 1,200 hours
  • Oklahoma – if you cannot complete school you must provide a valid reason, and upon approval complete 1,200 hours of apprenticeship
  • Vermont – 1,200 hours, 800 hours if you have at least 200 hours of formal education
  • Virginia – 2,000 hours plus at least 144 hours of classroom instruction, if you can find an available apprenticeship
  • Washington – 800 hours

It’s a good idea to double check with your state’s board of cosmetology/esthetics because laws regarding apprenticeships occasionally change.

How to Decide if an Esthetics Apprenticeship is Right for You

So what exactly is an apprenticeship anyway? It’s a formal relationship between you and an apprentice master that is recognized by your state’s board of cosmetology. As the apprentice you can expect to gain valuable knowledge and instruction from your master that will qualify you to become licensed as an esthetician. You also get the chance to meet a variety of clients and work in a professional setting, earning a wage along the way.

What does your apprentice master get out of the deal? They get someone who is part student, part employee to help them with the esthetician profession and their business. So you could say the apprentice-master relationship boils down to a kind of student/employee-teacher/employer relationship. However it can be much more than this too.

As an apprentice you learn the same material as your esthetician-school counterparts and take the same licensing exams.

There are several important factors to consider when you’re deciding if an apprenticeship is right for you.

Personality – Which learning style best suits you? On-the-job learning where you start participating in the day-to-day running of the business and providing services? If so, then an apprenticeship may be the right fit for you.

Do you like a more structured learning environment with lots of colleagues who are in the same position as you? Then perhaps you should consider an esthetician program through a cosmetology school.

Talent – Do you already have talent as an esthetician? You’d better if you want to work as an apprentice. Think about it. An apprentice master is taking a risk by accepting you as their apprentice. They are trusting you to work with their clients – clients who are the bread and butter of their business; whose loyalty they have fought for years to retain. Clients put food on the table and pay the rent. Before anyone is going to trust you with their clients you must be able to show that you have the talent and are capable of making a positive contribution to the establishment.

Your Apprentice Master – Do you already have someone in mind that you would like to have as your apprentice master? That’s great if you do. If not that’s okay too, but you will need to go the extra mile in convincing the prospective master that you’re worth it.

Either way, get to know your potential master before you enter into the formalized relationship. Go out for coffee or a drink. It’s very important that your personalities meld well together, because this is the person who will be teaching you the ins and outs of the esthetics profession. This is your career! The importance cannot be overstated.

Time and Money – Many people will tell you that it’s cheaper to complete an apprenticeship than it is to go through school: you have to pay for school, while as an apprentice, you’re the one getting paid. However this is a simplified version of the larger picture.

What is also true is that you earn less working as an apprentice than you do as a licensed esthetician, and you’ll be working as an apprentice approximately twice as long as you would be in school. Now you can start to see the bigger picture. When you factor in time, money, and your wage level, an apprenticeship vs school can actually come close to a wash.

It’s totally logical that you’re thinking about your time and money when considering an esthetician apprenticeship. The point of all this is to say, that’s fine but just don’t make time/money the deciding factors; weigh these alongside the other factors that have a greater relevance to your actual training, education, and career preparation. I know it’s easier said than done – especially if you’ve got kids!

Potential Apprenticeship Advantages – In an apprenticeship you’ll learn all the important aspects of being an esthetician, but there are two additional advantages you can potentially gain that you can’t find as often in school: business knowledge and client networking.

Of course these subjects are covered in school too, but there is a difference between studying them and living them. When you work in an actual esthetics business you get real life exposure to what it’s like running a business and working with a wide range of clientele. Estheticians will often tell you that mastering these two subjects is just as important as being able to do a facial.

Listening to the Experts: Advice on Apprenticing from One of the Biggest Names in Esthetics

Spa and salon consultant Jon Gonzalez has four decades of experience in the beauty industry, and published a 2013 article in HCDS about apprenticeships. An advocate of this education model, Gonzalez details his opinion that, “there is no substitute for on the job training.”

He makes the point that apprenticeships solve two important problems in the beauty industry. On the one hand, experienced estheticians and related professionals are often in need of extra staff to help with growing client numbers. On the other hand, Gonzalez thinks that having more apprentices would help to reduce the dropout rate for students in the beauty industry. The apprenticeship model presents a win-win solution.

Regarding the issue of the quality of education, Gonzalez is also adamant that apprenticeships present the opportunity for better education. “An apprenticeship program would help upgrade the quality of education to better meet job market and consumer demands. As salon owners you certainly have the incentive to educate your team; if you don’t teach them properly, you will probably go out of business.”

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