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Bill sets up cosmetology apprenticeship as licensing alternative to beauty school

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Bill sets up cosmetology apprenticeship as licensing alternative to beauty school

Feb 22, 2024 | 6:30 am ET
By Whitney Downard
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Bill sets up cosmetology apprenticeship as licensing alternative to beauty school
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A bill to establish an apprenticeship program for cosmetologists got mixed reviews Wednesday but the legislation easily passed committee. (Getty Images)

Dozens of beauticians, barbers and stylists flooded the Statehouse Wednesday, urging senators to take action on a House bill establishing a cosmetology apprenticeship program but the crowd was evenly split when it came to their views. 

Lawmakers appeared more unified than testimony, approving the proposal on a 6-2 vote, with two of the committee’s Democrats voting against it. 

Bill sets up cosmetology apprenticeship as licensing alternative to beauty school
Rep. Tim Wesco, R-Osceola, speaks on the House floor in February 2023. (Courtesy Indiana House Republicans/Wesco official Flickr)

Rep. Tim Wesco said he authored House Bill 1135 to create a second pathway for licensing that better served rural areas — which may not have nearby beauty schools — and was more affordable for students. 

“(House Bill 1135) expands opportunities for people to be able to enter a profession that can change their lives, change their families’ lives,” said Wesco, R-Osceola. “It expands opportunity geographically; it expands opportunity economically for people to rise up who could never afford the current single pathway into the profession.”

The original version of the bill included a compact with other states that would allow certain licensed cosmetologists from other states to work in Indiana but that move created a cost to the state so committee members struck the language. 

They also adopted another amendment shifting oversight of the apprenticeship program from the State Board of Cosmetology and Barbers Examiners to a registered apprenticeship program with the U.S. Department of Labor. Such a move will increase the number of apprenticeship hours from 1,500 to 2,000. 

“Moving to a Department of Labor apprenticeship program also would only allow one apprentice or licensed cosmetologist in a registered apprenticeship as opposed to up to two in the current bill,” Wesco continued.

Mixed reactions from cosmetologists 

Marta Stephens, the Terre Haute salon owner who brought the idea to Wesco, said apprentices will get real-world experience, practical skills and one-on-one training they wouldn’t otherwise receive in a beauty school. 

“This bill broadens the doorway of entry into the cosmetology field and allows some apprentices to quickly enter the workforce without incurring any student debt,” Stephens told the committee. 

Other salon owners said they frequently hired graduates as assistants for six months to a year to teach them skills they felt were missing in their beauty school education. 

Bill sets up cosmetology apprenticeship as licensing alternative to beauty school
Marta Stephens, a Terre Haute salon owner, urges senators to support a bill to create a cosmetology apprenticeship program. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Several young beauticians shared how much they’d struggled to get through school, which can cost as much as $26,000 annually for a degree but can take up to three years.

But others had concerns about creating a program that would have just one vendor approved by the Department of Labor for Indiana, creating a bottleneck with no competition. 

School owner Robin Halter, from Evansville, said she didn’t oppose having an apprenticeship program but urged the committee not to pass the bill in its current form, citing questions about the sole vendor. 

But she said having the compact would have helped her community, in particular, which borders both Kentucky and Illinois.

Others worried that apprentices wouldn’t get the same, multi-faceted education in a salon as they would in a school. 

School owner and licensed cosmetologist Arthur Harris spoke specifically about salon practices for textured hair, such as the use of relaxers, a chemical process to straighten hair. He said the bill needed more guardrails to protect consumers from poorly trained professionals.

“If you have a relaxer and your apprentice has a relaxer, you only have 15 minutes to apply that safely without being damaged … (and) you cannot stop what you’re doing to help them,” Harris said. “I encourage my instructors out there when they’re using these caustic chemicals to make sure that they can jump in.”

Improper use can damage hair and even burn someone’s scalp, he said, sharing a photo of a child with such injuries. 

Others wondered about what happened to apprentices who lost their jobs or had a salon close and didn’t complete their degree in a timely manner. 

Limited discussion

Following roughly an hour of testimony, senators spent less than ten minutes discussing the bill, with most saying they roundly supported apprenticing programs. Having an apprenticeship through the Department of Labor would mean that the approved program was tasked with reviewing pay scales, Wesco noted.

“I will not compare cosmetology to plumbing, but I am also very, very strongly in favor of apprenticeships,” said Sen. David Niezgodski, a licensed plumber from South Bend. “Our training actually involves over 8,000 hours of training and its five years of schooling that amounts to over 250 hours per year … we should not make those pathways easier so that we create a problem with safety and health.”

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Niezgodski was one of the two Democrats who voted against the measure and also said that he would have supported a compact with other states. 

“I think it’s an ‘and.’ I think it’s creating more opportunity, another pathway into the workplace,” said Sen. Andy Zay, a congressional candidate and Republican from Huntington. “I don’t think as a government we should stand in the way of that. Nothing changes as far as current licensure, it’s my understanding, so that pathway currently exists. Because of that, I am in support.”

The full Senate chamber will have the chance to weigh in on the bill in the coming weeks before sending it back to the House, which must approve the new amendments before it heads to the governor.