Mahesh is back for round of Mahesh’s Musings, and this time he’s going to teach you how to become a barber. Yes - that’s right - our very own Master Barber is going to give you his direct advice on how to learn the trade and get your foot in the door.
Remember - Mahesh lives in the UK, so the proper channels to apprenticeship may vary depending on where you are. However, no matter where you live, there’s going to be valuable information in this post if you’re looking to get in the barbershop world.
There are a few different ways to become a barber, but all of them have one common factor: Hunger and Drive. No matter who you are or what methodology you choose to become a barber, you will have to demonstrate that you’ve got a drive to succeed in order to make this happen for you.
Being a Barber is Hard Work
This is a very hard industry to work in. Barbering is a very physical job - shops are getting busier and busier and you’re on your feet while using your hands to trim and groom all day. It takes a while to get used to, and it doesn’t get any less physically taxing. It takes a toll on your body and your need for personal time, so expect lots of changes in who you are and how you operate as you get more experience.
Set your expectations accordingly. While this is perceived as a "cool" job to have, it's still a hard job that's extremely taxing, and it's still a customer-facing job. There are times where it is glamorous, but there are times when it's a huge challenge, too.
When you think about the amount of beard trims and beard oil applications a barber can do in a day (10-16), that's a lot of time spent hunched over and in strange positions while standing. You'll have to embrace this early on and learn how to take better care of your body if you want to be in this industry for any length of time. Stretching, yoga, and visits to a masseur or chiropractor will be extremely beneficial in this line of work.
Becoming a Barber as a Student
If you're still a teenager or in your early twenties and go to a trade school or a college, you can do barbering or hairdressing coursework. If they offer these as separate courses, Mahesh recommends doing both fields of coursework because it’ll make your skills well-rounded. Barber-exclusive coursework tends to lean heavily into clipper-only skills, whereas hairdressing coursework gives you a host of scissor skills that you wouldn’t be privy to otherwise.
Longer hair on men is and always will be fashionable to a group of every community. Barbers who don’t have scissor training and experience are at a disadvantage when those men walk into their shop, so having those skills in your back pocket will make your career a hell of a lot easier.
It will take you longer to finish your coursework, but if you’re a younger student, you’ve got time on your side to get this done.
Many programs will stack their training into one or two full days of coursework, allowing you to go out and get practical experience in the industry during the rest of the week. If you’re younger and in a financial position to take on unpaid or entry level pay experience, you’ll be at a huge advantage when you can say “Hey, I need a couple days of work a week to get my experience going while I’m in school. The money isn’t as important as getting the experience.” This demonstrates your drive to learn rather than make a grip of cash fast.
In many worlds this is called an apprenticeship (tattooing is another example of a similar model). When you’re not in the shop, you’re studying your craft. While you’re at the shop, you’re helping out with the daily flow in exchange for being taught along the way (it’s also a great way to meet people who would be willing to lend their hair for practice).
Becoming a Barber Later in Life
If you’re already in your career and you’re considering a new career as a barber, this will take a bit more energy and dedication, as you’ll be pursuing these skills in your personal time.
You’ll have to hunt for a part time apprenticeship, similar to a student would. Prospect local barbers on your days off and offer to exchange your work for education and a part time source of experience. In order for the business to take you on, you have to be beneficial to them and demonstrate fast growth and dedication to the craft.
The incentive for the barbershop taking on someone a bit older is that you’re a bit more mature and self aware than other apprentices. You know how to be professional, and know what you want for yourself. Lean into that and use it to sell yourself as a good fit!
There is another option that is often explored, and that’s the DIY option: Buying your own supplies, working on your friends, and learning from YouTube.
From Mahesh’s perspective, this is not the best option and he actually discourages it. YouTube is great for refining your work and learning new advanced techniques, but when it comes to a physical skill like barbering or tattooing, you need an experienced, trained professional to teach you the basics so you have a strong foundation to build from.
If this is a route that you choose, you’ll have an uphill battle to break your poor barbering habits you didn’t even know you had - from the order in which you complete a haircut to holding the tools correctly. When it comes to all sorts of fine physical skills, learning from a trained professional is always the way to start.
Long story short? You'll want to pick up an apprentice-style arrangement at a local barbershop. Don't try to learn on your own!
Not everyone is going to have available space or time for an apprentice, so don't get discouraged if you get a few "No, thank you"'s. It's worth the wait and patience to find a shop that is looking for a new, moldable talent.