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In 1982 Barbara McNaughton opened a hair salon in Oxted, Surrey. Along with two other hairdressers (and three styling chairs), she set about building the foundations for what has become Elements Lifestyle. This highly successful hair and beauty salon now has a team of 27 people and, in 2010, expanded to include a dedicated academy running Apprenticeships in hairdressing, barbering, customer services, social and digital media and business administration.
A real believer in lifelong learning and always willing to invest in her people, Barbara was quick to recognise the value of Apprenticeships:
“What we love about Apprenticeships is that although a 16-year-old may not have much experience, they bring a new view. They don’t see the problems or challenges we see and that keeps us fresh. We gain as much from them as we teach them.”
Elements started off, like many small businesses, with just one or two apprentices. Then Barbara found that other salons also wanted apprentices who were Elements trained. She explains:
“Originally we had apprentices to keep the training in-house, which was good from a quality perspective. Then other salons wanted our apprentices so we developed our team with some of us branching out to get assessor awards.”
In time, the academy was established. Run under the administrative umbrella of Nescot College in Epsom because of its small size, Elements Lifestyle Academy functions like a mini college. Depending on the Apprenticeship they undertake, some apprentices spend their entire time on-site, while others take up employment in other businesses and attend the academy for assessments only.
The Apprenticeship training delivered in the academy is inspired by the knowledge and experience Barbara and her team have acquired over the last 33 years in the hair and beauty industry:
“Salons may have the skills to do people’s hair but not necessarily the know-how to grow their businesses. For example, hairdressers, like restaurants or shops, need good customer services and social media – they’re brilliant tools. We can now offer, for example, a hairdresser’s receptionist, a qualification in digital and social media. They’ll come into Elements for one day a month and that gives them all the module information they need for their learning for the following month.”
Like many industries, hair and beauty changes fast with new opportunities and challenges presenting themselves all the time. Barbara tells us that within her salon and those of her peers, Apprenticeships have proven an excellent weapon in the battle to stay relevant:
“YouTube is a good example. Customers use it to learn how to do hairstyles and some salons present their looks on the channel. It’s impacted the industry to an unbelievable level so we need to be digitally aware. Someone taking an Apprenticeship that covers digital media could allow a business to sustain its success. It’s about having people in your business who are flexible enough to build a future on. And then there’s maternity and people retiring. The academy provides Elements and other salons with a pool of talent to rely on.”
Barbara believes the time is ripe for another wave of worthwhile, in-depth Apprenticeships. As university fees make academic courses unaffordable for many, she thinks it’s time we recognised the real value in this alternative route to earning, learning and growing:
“I think Apprenticeships need to be celebrated as a parallel, viable form of learning and progression in life. Apprentices have always served the great British high street and core industries – electricians, builders, engineering, plumbing. We must acknowledge that a person is a professional whether they wear overalls or a shirt.”
Apprenticeships let local communities know that a business cares about something beyond its immediate profits. For Barbara, an Apprenticeship is a long-term investment and one that is about sustainable success rather than endless growth:
“Businesses don’t have to become huge in terms of turnover or numbers of employees but they must keep evolving. They need to be innovative – stay compact but stay strong. Apprenticeships are a great way to achieve that and I intend to be part of the movement that celebrates small business and apprentices.”
Photo: Barbara McNaughton (centre – back row) with the Elements Lifestyle team.