When you’re an apprentice, it can feel like you’re being put through the wringer. Bullying, underpayments, and withheld entitlements are all too common with our members, but one HSA Ambassador has broken the cycle, and we’re proud to share her story.

Vanessa started her hair styling career six years ago after, beginning at Toowoomba TAFE. She moved to the Sunshine Coast to find an apprenticeship, after struggling to find a position in Toowoomba. Although her first year was marred with an ongoing battle with endometriosis, Vanessa found a full-time position at a large salon chain.

“I was told to leave because I was being bullied and I complained to the regional HR Manager,” Vanessa recalls. “I was made to resign, so I left there, because I was bullied and belittled.

Her next apprenticeship wasn’t much better. After her grandmother passed away, and Vanessa requested time off, she received an ultimatum. “The roster was a month in advance,” she says. “They turned around and said it was either go to my grandmother’s funeral and not have a job, or vice versa. I packed my shit and left.”

Vanessa moved back to her hometown of Kingaroy. “I was bullied, belittled, yelled at on the floor.” When she didn’t receive her promised training, Vanessa complained to the Department of Education. “They found out the anonymous tip was me. I got a warning from that.”

After a string of difficult apprenticeships, Vanessa was in crisis. “At the time, I was thinking, ‘do I even want to keep doing this?’ I just went for a walk around and handed in my resume.”

She landed a role in another salon, and remained there for two years. “I was belittled, bullied, underpaid. No super was paid, and I’m still collecting super as we speak.” Vanessa says she didn’t receive any training. “I had to train myself in my last books.”

The experience made her question her career choice. “There were days I’d go home crying about the whole experience,” she remembers. “I was at the point of giving up and walking away from hairdressing.”

Near the end of her apprenticeship, in July last year, Vanessa met Hair Stylists Australia at the Brisbane Hair Expo. “I signed up with HSA then and there, and I’ve been a member ever since,” she says.

HSA provided valuable advice to Vanessa, and helped her rediscover her passion in hair styling. “If it wasn’t for HSA being there, helping me through it and helping me get back the fees and training and super, I wouldn’t have stuck it out. I would have finished.”

Vanessa now runs her own business, Infiniti Hair in Kingaroy, which is also an Ethical Salon. “I wouldn’t have the salon I have now without support from HSA.”

As a salon owner, Vanessa is determined to break the cycle of bullying and abuse that passes from employer to apprentice – something she suffered through for years.  “I know what it’s like to be treated like a piece of dirt. I don’t want my staff to feel like I did,” she says. “I make sure my staff are paid on awards. They have their breaks, know what their roster is. I make sure [my apprentice] is getting her training.”

Apprentices should never have to suffer through bullying or exploitation in their training, and at HSA we urge anyone in that situation to reach out to us and take that next step. Employers need to understand this practice is not only harmful to the industry, but it’s illegal.

Vanessa supports our #demandrespect campaign, because if things don’t change, she’s worried that aspiring stylists will give up hair and beauty altogether. “If we don’t look after our staff, especially the apprentices, we’re not going to have an industry in ten years.”