It is no secret that women in the UAE love to pamper themselves with hairstyles and make-up, which has resulted in a booming beauty industry and opportunities for beauticians.
However, there is a lack of qualified talent when it comes to locally based professional hairstylists and make-up artists ready to enter the marketplace. This shortage will not continue for much longer if the Formul'A Hairdressing Academy based in Dubai Knowledge Village has anything to do with it.
"The main course we do is the International Vocational Qualification (IVQ) which is for people with no hairdressing experience at all," Valerie Reynaert, general manager of Formul'A, said. "They learn the entire business from the very basics, which includes cutting, styling, colouring, hairdos, straightening and perms."
The academy has been running courses for five years, but received accreditation in 2010 from City & Guilds, the UK's leading awarding body of vocational qualifications. Since its accreditation, it has already turned out 25 locally trained qualified hairdressers with a 100 per cent pass rate.
"Our hairdressing course runs for nine months with intakes in September and March of a maximum of 10 students for each intake because we currently only have two trainers."
The academy also offers an intensive five-day make-up course for aspiring make-up artists and a series of short hairdressing courses to cater to professionals looking to acquire new skills. But why would parents accept the idea of their child giving up a ‘respectable' university degree in order to follow their passion?
"Hairdressing is a huge market in Dubai, I've been in the UAE's beauty industry for nearly nine years and it's a booming market," Reynaert said. "Even when the crisis hit, the good salons were still running as normal, so there are definitely jobs out there for hairdressers."
She added that although there are more than 5,000 beauty salons in the UAE, 10 per cent of which are high-end, qualified hairdressers do have other options besides working in salons.
"With the IVQ, hairdressers can freelance, work in salons, do photo shoots, fashion shows, go to people's houses — which is big here — or go into management," she said. "Although to get into management, they have to take the level three IVQ."
Despite qualifications, the most important quality of a successful hairdresser is passion, Formul'A trainer Samantha Goddard said.
"You've got to love the job because it's long hours and you're always working on public holidays, so you've go to really love it," the hairdresser of 13 years said.
She added the hard work is what makes it a financially rewarding profession.
"Your clients won't come to you, you've got to get yourself out there and show them what you can do and with the knowledge you will be successful in this region."
The regional experience gained by hairdressers in Dubai can also be quite valuable in other parts of the world.
"I found working here in the UAE, compared to the UK, you work with Arabic hair, so hairdressers here train on people who love big hair; whereas you don't get that in the UK because everyone wants it flat and straight," she said. "In this [UAE] industry, everyone wants a hair-up because they're going to an event or a ball, so there is a lot of fancy hair which is good."
Just like in other practical professional training, practice makes perfect and at Formul'A, the public are the students' test subjects. The academy offers free haircuts, by students, to members of the public.
"Clients get free haircuts but we only let students work on clients when they feel confident enough to do them," Caroline Hind, a Formul'A trainer, said. "Up to now, it's been brilliant, we've had no disasters yet."
Kristin Jenkins was happy to give 17-year-old Kyong Il Hwa all the time she needed to give her a proper haircut. Jenkins was the sixth client Il Hwa has ever worked on.
"This is my second time here and I was told they need clients and I have children who are students so I thought I'd come back," she said. "I was very happy with the first cut; the teachers check everything the students do so you're not really risking anything, so why not support them."