Finishing your apprenticeship is a huge step in your career as a hair stylist. But what do you do if you’re being held back? Today, we’re talking to Emily*, who with the help of HSA took matters into her own hands when her employer refused to sign her off. 

Emily* worked as an apprentice for several years when COVID-19 hit. She agreed to an extension to her apprenticeship because of the pandemic, but just for a few weeks, to finish off her TAFE modules.

“But she insisted on extending me for six months,” Emily says. “I thought that was weird, and I did speak to her about it, but she brainwashed me into thinking it was for the best.”

“Then she just kept coming up with trivial and bullshit reasons to keep me on as an apprentice,” she remembers. “I was on the floor doing short ladies’ haircuts, and she told my TAFE teacher not to sign me off.” 

Emily’s father knew something was wrong, and made sure she signed up to HSA. “He pushed me, because I was having so many issues, and I felt like I had no support,” she says. 

“When I got in contact with you guys, it was like a saviour! HSA made me aware of my rights and got me through.”

With the advice and support of HSA, Emily escalated the situation to the State Training Board to try and work it out. She says that having us back her made all the difference. “I needed someone there to help me speak, because there’s been numerous times I’ve been put in the corner and cried and cried, because I literally can’t get my words out.”

One thing Emily had the foresight to do was record everything that was going on. “I wrote down dates and times as soon as it started happening, clients and haircuts. Because I was doing everything a senior was doing, and that’s why I should have been getting paid as senior.” 

With the State Training Board involved, and all the evidence gathered, Emily made a big push to get her employer to sign her off. “She kept saying ‘you’re not finished, you need more experience,’” she says. “So I hit her back with dates and times of services I’ve completed.” 

“Then I got a phone call saying, ‘we’ll sign you off’!”

Emily is now a senior stylist at a downtown salon, and is saving the extra money. “I’m planning a trip around Australia – that’s why I was pushing so hard for it.”

Some apprentices might need longer than the required 3 years to finish off their Cert 3, and if the person who trained you for so long says you’re not ready, it’s really hard to feel confident in your ability. 

But while most employers will have your best interests at heart, there are some who see apprentices as cheap labour – something we’re seeing more and more with our members in the hair industry.  

Emily’s advice to anyone in a similar situation is to record everything – take photos of your work, get the times and dates of your services written down, and track your clients. Having the evidence to back you up can be really important if it comes down to your word versus your employer.  

But most importantly, Emily says, join HSA. “Please, for the love of God, join the union! I’ve said to a couple of girls, I can’t stress how important it is.”

“I wouldn’t have been able to see out my time there. I literally wouldn’t have been able to do it. I wouldn’t have known what was right and wrong.”

*name has been changed for privacy reasons.