116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Trent Keller cut Donshey Reed’s hair when Reed was a teen growing up in Waterloo.
Now Keller, 48, is teaching Reed, 38, how to cut hair as part of the Iowa Department of Corrections barbering apprenticeship program.
Keller drives more than two hours twice a month from Waterloo to Mount Pleasant to mentor Reed in the hands-on skills of cutting hair, as well as on the business skills Keller has learned owning the Hairport barbershop for more than 20 years.
“Every client you do, you want them to leave looking like Denzel Washington. You want them to look like Magnum P.I.,” Keller said last Monday during a session with Reed.
The Corrections Department, which started its barbering apprenticeship program in 2018, has seven graduates with a half-dozen other men training at prisons across the state.
While prisons have had the program for several years, Iowa barbershops are starting their own apprenticeship programs under a change in Iowa law last year that allows would-be barbers to be paid while they learn from other barbers and through a state-approved curriculum.
While fees for apprenticeships are a fraction of barbering school tuition — which may allow more people to get into the profession — some barbers say the state needs to give more guidance to these fledgling programs to ensure apprentices get enough training.
When Keller decided in 1992 he wanted to be a barber, his job working at Pizza Hut wasn’t enough to pay for school. He took out Pell grants to pay his tuition at the College of Hair Design and Young’s Cosmetology School, both in Waterloo.
Today, Iowa has only one barbering school, the Salon Professional Academy, in Cedar Falls. Marc Nalls plans later this year to open the Clippernomics Academy of Hairstyling in Des Moines.
The Clippernomics website lists a special of $6,000 enrollment for a curriculum that includes courses on cutting, styling and coloring hair, as well as facial and nail techniques, safety and chemistry and laws and ethics of being a professional barber/stylist.
Nalls has been cutting hair for 25 years, but to open Clippernomics he had to get certified as an instructor. His school also must be bonded, which means money is set aside in case a consumer files a complaint.
“It takes a lot of guidance and teaching to get a person to go from A to Z,” Nalls said about instruction. “Before we even get to cutting hair, you have to go through laws and rules in regards to sanitation. Then there’s nerves, muscles and arteries (as well as learning) the history of barbering.”
LaJames International College, with campuses in Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Waterloo, Fort Dodge and Johnston, is facing a class-action lawsuit from former students who say the cosmetology school mishandled their student loan money, the Des Moines Register reported Jan. 3.
More than clippers
The state Corrections Department’s barbering apprenticeship requires 2,000 hours of hands-on work and several months of book work that includes 12 written tests. All prison apprenticeships, certified with the U.S. Department of Labor, are tied to jobs needed in the correction system.
In 2020, Mitchell Stites became the first person to complete the program. When he was released in March 2020, he had to pass the state’s written test and a two-hour proctored test that includes doing haircuts with scissors, clippers and a straightedge razor as well as highlighting and perming a mannequin’s hair.
“I got through that hands-on test by using YouTube,” Stites told The Gazette in October. “I went through a lot of stress and anxiety over that.” Stites had opened his own barbershop, the Barber House, in Urbandale, last June.
To enhance the program, the Corrections Department is working to bring seasoned barbers, like Keller, into the prisons to help with hands-on skills and to share business expertise.
You’ve got to know when to talk and when to listen. Work fast — more heads means more money — but don’t make the shop feel like an assembly line. Care for your gear and your body because if you can’t stand for eight to 10 hours a day, you’ll be out of a job.
Keller shared these nuggets with Reed during a recent meeting at the Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility. Reed had scheduled a dozen haircuts so Keller would help him with technique, but because of a spike in COVID-19 cases in the prison, the practical training was suspended.
Reed offered some of his own hard-earned wisdom.
“I started wrestling when I was 4 years old,” he said. “I was very hyperactive.”
If Reed’s grades weren’t high enough in high school, his parents wouldn’t let him go to wrestling practices or meets. That structure motivated him to keep his studies on track, he said.
Reed was incarcerated a handful of times for selling marijuana, with this most recent trip to prison coming after a parole violation, he said. But Reed now feels like the barbering apprenticeship has given him the structure he needs and the skills to make a money without drug sales.
“A lot of people want to be entrepreneurs, but they are selling the wrong product,” Keller said. As a barber, the product is competent, caring service, he said.
Reed’s plan is to go back to Waterloo when he’s released later this year. He’ll work another job to make money, but get tutoring from Keller to prepare for the state exams. Once licensed, Reed wants to rent a chair to start building a client base.
Law has changed
In May, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed Senate File 424, which requires state licensing boards, such as the Board of Barbering, to grant licenses to people who have completed Department of Labor-certified apprenticeships as long as they’ve also passed required exams and paid fees.
When the board met Aug. 30, three Iowa barbershops had applied to have apprenticeship programs, according to meeting minutes.
Board Executive Venus Vendoures Walsh said the board would accept certified apprenticeships as a path to getting a license. These programs must include 2,000 in-person and hands-on training hours and 380 hours of classroom instruction through the Milady barbering curriculum.
Teono and Kristin Smith, owners of Tru All-American Barbershop, in Des Moines, started an apprenticeship program Oct. 5 and now have six apprentices, Teono Smith told The Gazette.
“When you have school you’re going for eight or nine hours a day and you’re not paid,” he said. “In an apprenticeship, you’re paid and it’s less expensive.”
Apprentices pay $500 at the beginning of the program, expected to last 12 to 14 months, Smith said. They observe licensed barbers and eventually perform their own services, including cuts and facials. The apprentices make an hourly wage to start; later their pay will be based on commission.
Nalls, of Clippernomics, said he thinks a barbering apprenticeship is a good route for someone who has years of experience cutting the hair of friends and family. But he would like to see the state provide more structure for the apprenticeships.
“The state of Iowa and Barbering Board are going to have to come up with more rules,” he said.
Stan Yoder, owner of Stan’s Barber Stylists in Iowa City, graduated from barbering school in Cedar Rapids and became a licensed barber in 1966. At that time, there were 8,000 barbers in Iowa. At his last certification in July, there were 1,200.
Yoder thinks the apprenticeships are a step backward.
“If a shop is busy, I have no idea how the person working the chair would have time to be teaching somebody,” he said. And not every barber is cut out to teach. “I could probably show you how to do it, but if you didn’t get it, I wouldn’t have the patience to show you again and again and again.”
Yoder would like to see barbering and cosmetology training taken over by community colleges, which could offer training in cuts, highlights, safety and sanitation, while also providing business courses.
Comments: (319) 339-3157; email@example.com