“If a student is working on a client, her feet are hitting the next student,” said Janette Banks, HCC’s cosmetology program manager.
Because of physical space constraints, the cosmetology programs at HCC and Southwestern Community College are limited in how many students they can admit. They only have so much floor space for workstations.
That in turn limits the crop of cosmetologists entering the area workforce each year.
In Western North Carolina, there is a demand in the cosmetology field, not just from students who want to earn a cosmetology license but also from salon owners who need to fill chairs left empty by a revolving door of employees.
“It is hard to find a good quality stylist, and there are always people coming in and out of the area,” said Courtney Ammons, owner of The NTH Degree Salon in Sylva.
Both community colleges are looking to expand to accommodate student and job demand in cosmetology.
Turnover creates demand
A jobs report for the seven westernmost counties calculated that there will be about 57 unfilled positions for hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists from 2013 to 2016. The Southwestern Commission released the report, which encompasses Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Cherokee, Clay and Graham counties.
“There is a big demand. There is always job openings,” Banks said.
And the number of jobs in the field in WNC is also increasing. This year, there were 499 hairdresser, hairstylist and cosmetologist positions in the region. That number is estimated to increase to 528 by 2016, according to the report, meaning there are plenty of jobs to go around for recent and future cosmetology school graduates.
Anyone going into cosmetology, which includes basic hair cutting, must have a state license.
And although HCC and SCC collectively churn out about 60 new cosmetologists a year, it can still be difficult for salon owners to find employees.
“It is very hard to find people who meet up to our standard,” Ammons said.
It is not uncommon for salons to have apprenticeships for anyone who just graduated from a cosmetology program.
“You are teaching your new employee essentially how you like things to be done,” said Randy McCall, the cosmetology program manager for SCC. “You are assuring quality control.”
Requiring in-salon training for new graduates may also make workers think twice about jumping ship after a year or two.
“Sometimes over there always looks better than here,” McCall said.
Similar to other service jobs, cosmetology tends to have a higher rate of turnover than other professions. People switch salons, move out of the area or stop working in that field altogether.
“You’d be surprised how many people you lose in the first year and five years,” said Sharon Walls, owner of Beau Monde Salon and Spa in Waynesville. “It is amazing how many people go through the school and how many people are still in the job market.”
Walls said she is lucky to have one woman who has worked at her salon for 20 years and another who patronized the business as a young girl and has now worked there for 10 years.
More space needed
In order to meet the regional market demand for cosmetologists, both HCC and SCC are planning future expansions. Neither has ground breaking dates for the upgrades. However, work at SCC could begin as early as this summer.
At HCC, six cosmetology instructors are crammed into an roughly 200-square-foot office. When a fellow teacher needs to consult with a student, the others have to leave because of a lack of privacy. And since there is no room for a copy machine or storage, they are scattered around the building in classrooms or lining the hallway.
“We just learn how to deal,” Banks said.
Banks said leaders have talked about expanding the cosmetology building since she arrived in 1997. And now more than 15 years later, the structure is in more desperate need of renovations.
It has problems with its heating and air conditioning system, as well as a shortage of electrical power. Teachers regularly find themselves having to flip the breaker.
“Too many hairdryers at one time,” said Bill Dechant, director of campus development. “We are about maxed out as far as electrical services.”
The program has outgrown its space, which is the reason why HCC leaders want to expand the current building — an estimated cost of $1.2 million.
“It’s not a bad space; it’s just small,” Dechant said.
The college has not formally requested any money for the cosmetology expansion at this time. HCC made a $1.4 million budget pitch to county commissioners for campus construction and remodeling in the coming year, but the cosmetology expansion wasn’t on it. Instead, cosmetology was on the long-range to-do list for future years.
SCC’s current space is also limiting its enrollment numbers.
SCC averages about 40 students, beginner and advanced, each year, and about 10 high school students who are taking cosmetology courses as an elective. McCall said the program could have as many as 60 students at a time if it had the room.
“We can only have as many students as what we have stations for,” McCall said.
The demand is there. By the beginning of the fall semester, the community college will have more than 20 people on a wait list for the cosmetology program.
Similar to HCC, SCC wants to expand and remodel is cosmetology space as well. It has made it one of its top priorities and included on its campus wishlist in a funding request to the county for the coming year.
Specifically, SCC is eyeing a 6,600-square-foot, $1.5 million renovation of Founder’s Hall, which includes the expansion of the cosmetology department as well as the addition of study lounges, a café and more restrooms. The additional space would eliminate the need for a student waiting list two years after it’s completed.
By the numbers
In the seven westernmost counties in North Carolina, there are nearly 500 jobs for hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists. Below shows the number of jobs by county: