Today we turn the focus to Carla Hales, Managing Director of Debut Academy, a nail and beauty training academy based in Wickford, Essex. In addition to being MD of Debut Academy, Carla is also a successful salon owner, with two Debut salons based in Wickford and Brentwood.
Debut Academy has been offering beauty apprenticeships for over 9 years and has been an approved VTCT centre since 2011. At present, the Academy has an impressive 130 apprentices undergoing training with them.
Carla transitioned into education, approximately 12 years ago, when she realised that the employees starting in her salon were not up to the expected standard. She decided to become an educator and personally teach nail students privately. She was later approached by a training provider to subcontract her teaching, before eventually launching her own Training Academy.
Debut Academy now employs 14 educators, all of whom have either managed or worked in salons with a wide range of treatments, or are experienced nail technicians. It’s important for Debut Academy, that their educators are not newly qualified but have a solid base of industry experience. In fact, 75% of them are still working whilst teaching.
When asked what Carla credits for Debut Academy’s success, she explains, “our ethos is progression. Making people secure in their jobs and happy.”
Carla explains that key to this, is working out which route is right for the learners, “some learners will flourish in a spa and others in an instant service salon offering nail treatments. In addition to that, we know every salon has a different culture; it’s important for the apprentice to be a good fit.”
For Debut Academy, it’s not about pushing a particular qualification because there are spaces on that course, or because the learner likes make-up; it’s important to make sure the learner is doing the qualification best suited to the career they wish to pursue.
Carla shared that the Academy holds a lot of career events to make sure the learners understand what is involved in working in the beauty industry. She feels one of the biggest challenges of working in education is when a learner doesn’t have passion for what they do. This is why ensuring prospective learners understand what to expect on an apprenticeship and beyond, is crucial.
Debut Academy typically recruit from their Level 2 programmes onto their apprenticeships, with approximately 50-60% of Level 2 learners choosing to stay on and undertake an apprenticeship. Carla says it is these learners that best know what to expect.
Carla’s advice for anyone about to start on an apprenticeship is that they should have, “realistic expectations of what they are going to be doing when they start their apprenticeships. Some expect to walk in on their Level 2 and have a full list of clients. They need to understand that it will take 6-8 months to build up a clientele and become confident in their skills.” Ultimately, it is important for the learners to remember there is an expectation on the job, not just in the classroom, and it requires time to become proficient at what they are learning. One of the best parts is that they are being paid to learn.
Beyond their apprenticeships, about 80% of Debut Academy’s Level 2 learners decide to progress onto a Level 3 qualification. Many want to go into teaching and come back to undertake their education qualifications.
It’s clear that Debut Academy goes the extra mile to help their learners be employable. Carla explains they have master educators come in to give extra training if there is a trending treatment. This is offered to learners as private, free training where they just need to cover the cost of any kit. This helps learners stay up-to-date on their skills.
When asked about the positives of offering apprenticeships, Carla emphasised the value of working with employers; Debut Academy is currently working with more than 70 employers. Their relationships with employer partners are very strong, as they regularly stay connected with communication between educator and employer. The educator updates the employer with what the apprentice has learnt in class that week so that they can back up the content with what takes place in the workplace. The employer is taking an active role in the educational experience.
Carla emphasised, “we don’t want an apprentice to go in and be simply a lunch-runner. We make sure the employers are aware of what the guidelines are and what we expect from them. They’re fully aware of their commitment and what content the learners need to have covered by when.”
Debut Academy even has a full-time staff member dedicated solely to liaising with employees. Carla explains that their role is not only about supporting the apprentices but supporting the employers too: “If we don’t have that three-way communication and support, we can have a huge breakdown in communication.” This is a formula that clearly works for Debut Academy as success rates for their apprenticeships are over 90%.