Instructors, salon owners fight for occupational licensing reform

Eyebrow threader Dipa Bhattarai demonstrates eyebrow threading, the technique of using a single strand of cotton thread to remove hair, on Betty Tucker, of Madison, Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Madison, Miss. Mississippi no longer requires professional licenses for people who offer low-risk beauty services, such as eyebrow threaders, eyelash technicians or makeup artists, a change that will save residents thousands of dollars and hours of time spent on training. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Cosmetology instructors and hair school owners across the state are rallying support for a bipartisan bill that would vastly decrease the number barriers to employment for teaching in their profession currently applied by North Carolina’s occupational licensing laws.

Salon owners say House Bill 718 reduces the amount of time cosmetology instructors are required to put in before taking their instructor exam and thereby becoming certified to teach. Instructors would no longer have to take an 800-hour instructor course, and instead be able to take the state exam after one year of experience. The new law would apply to instructors of cosmetologists, estheticians, natural hair care specialists, and manicurists.

Post-pandemic labor shortages continue to reverberate across both the state and national economies. Policy experts agree occupational licensing reform is one way to help ease these shortages by lowering the cost and time for entry into some fields that need more workers.

Paul Naoum, co-founder of Alexander Paul Institute of Hair Design in Greenville says the long process to teach here has literally sidelined the cosmetics industry, which is still struggling to recover after last year’s devastating COVID-induced shutdowns. “HB 718 is much-needed regulatory relief for individuals and small businesses across the state that would mean more instructors and more working graduates,” he says. “It would solve the problem by significantly reducing so many of the barriers to employment that cosmetic arts teachers face in order to make a living doing what they love. Many practitioners would make excellent teachers but are currently hesitant to leave higher-paying jobs to enroll in an instructor program with so many barriers from the get-go.”

The bipartisan bill passed unanimously in the House, where Republicans currently maintain a majority of seats. The N.C. Board of Cosmetic Art Examiners is also in support of the bill, but it is currently stalled before the Senate, causing owners like Burruss and Naoum to grow increasingly frustrated. The shortage of licensed instructors limits the number of students a school can enroll.

Burruss has been teaching since 2013. “The first school I taught at I was the first person that school had hired in 17 years. My director at the time had been teaching for 35 years and the instructor whose position I filled was there for 20 years. Before I became an instructor, it was my belief that instructors received good benefits and made a lot of money and that was why they taught for so long! But I soon realized that, that wasn’t the case.”

Burruss paints a dismal portrait of the direction the profession is headed. She says most of the early instructors she knew have gone on to retire since she started working. “There have been schools that closed down, and colleges that stopped offering cosmetic arts programs, or at least cut back on them…. and not because they don’t have students enrolling, it is because there aren’t enough instructors available to teach.”

“I am the owner of a new school myself, but because I am having a hard time finding qualified instructors to expand my class days, I am limited to when I can have class. I understand the frustration other school owners face trying to keep reliable teachers so I substitute at cosmetology schools in Greenville and Raleigh.”

Naoum has seen an increase in his enrollments since the pandemic started, but is still having to waitlist students. “One of our substitute instructors is having to work at three different schools because of the instructor shortage,” says Naoum. He states that in his experience, the length of time that someone has practiced has no bearing on how well they teach.

Supports say HB 718 would allow both public and private cosmetology schools to enroll more students and have a greater positive economic impact on their communities. Cosmetologists point out it would also benefit veterans and their families, because many cosmetology schools accept VA benefits, and more open spots in schools means more career opportunities for them.