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Andrew Collinge case study

The foundation for long-term success: Andrew Collinge

Andrew Collinge Hairdressing’s apprenticeship programme is widely recognised as an industry leader and is key to the business’ longevity

High-quality training has always been at the heart of Andrew Collinge Hairdressing whose roots go back to 1940 when the first salon was opened in West Derby by Wilfred and Molly Collinge. It has been recruiting apprentices since the 1960s and, as well as training its own employees for six salons, has two graduate salons and two training schools which provide training services to 110 hairdressing businesses in North-West England.

Andrew Collinge is firmly established as one of the most influential hairdressing companies in the UK. Wilfred’s son, Peter, became a prolific competition hairdresser and opened a salon in Liverpool in the 1950s. His son Andrew, who won British Hairdresser of the Year twice, opened the group’s flagship salon in 2005 on Castle Street in Liverpool and expanded into Chester and Manchester.

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Peter and Andrew remain involved in the business today and their reputation has helped to make Andrew Collinge’s apprenticeship programme widely acknowledged as a leader in the industry. In 2018, the company was awarded a Princess Royal Training Award for its commitment to excellence in training and skills development.

An industry built on apprenticeships

The vast majority of hairdressers are micro- or small businesses or franchisees so the apprenticeship levy doesn’t apply, but hairdressing is an industry that has been built on apprenticeships and has a great deal to teach those employers that are putting in place programmes for the first time.

“As an industry, we’ve always embraced apprenticeships and they are intrinsic to what we do,” says Charlie Collinge, Managing Director of the group and Wilfred’s great grandson. “It is our sole method of recruitment and training so we owe apprenticeships everything.”

Indeed, he explains that because of apprenticeships, the organisation has never faced some of the common challenges experienced by many businesses such as ensuring a sustainable pipeline of talent. “Apprentices make great long-term employees because they understand the culture and core values of the company,” he says. “Which is probably why we’ve been in business for so long.”

Employee attrition rates are also low because the training instils a strong sense of loyalty and, while lifestyle decisions sometime dictate that individuals will move on, Collinge emphasises that apprentices contribute a great deal across their three-year training programme. “Without apprentices we wouldn’t be able to offer the same level of customer service in the salons,” he says. “We see them adding value throughout their training period.”

The business currently has 21 of its own employees undertaking the Hair Professional Level 2 Diploma and typically will have up to nine people on the Advanced Level 3 programme. It is preparing to replace this with the Senior and Creative Hair Professional standard when it is introduced later in 2019.

At any one time, Andrew Collinge Hairdressing is also typically delivering work-based training to more than 200 young people from other local salons in its training school, which is set up as a separate business.

“We feel very positive about the new standards and believe, along with the end-point assessment, will lead to more technically skilled and confident hair professionals,” says Collinge.

Off-the-job training

The apprenticeship mindset is so well established in hairdressing that new elements such as the 20%-off-the-job training present far less of a challenge than they do in other sectors. “Employers are happy for their apprentices to come to us for their training one day per week – it is the way we have always provided training,” he says. “We also insist on at least two hours in-salon training per week. We monitor this by our apprentice review system.”

The company’s approach to hairdressing training is to build a solid foundation of theoretical understanding mixed with great practical opportunities. Its apprentices work in the hairdressing training salons while gaining their Level 2 and then move to one of the Graduate salons in Birkenhead and Liverpool for their third year. Here, newly qualified hairdressers have the opportunity to build up a clientele in a busy hairdressing environment while studying for their advanced qualification. It has always seen practical hairdressing experience as the key to good vocational learning. “The graduate salons are like a finishing school for our hairdressers,” says Collinge, explaining that the individuals then return to one of the main salons.

Andrew Collinge Hairdressing looks for passion in its apprentices as well as good interpersonal skills. “They need to have a natural ability to communicate and converse so they can deliver great customer service,” says Collinge. “And they have to be hard workers. It can be a culture shock to go from school to an apprenticeship. Those who are diligent and quickly understand that this is not an extension of school tend to be the ones who do well. With the majority of apprentices being school leavers, it can be a challenge attracting someone to do an apprenticeship compared to remaining at school.”

As the apprenticeships focus on practical and professional skills required, Andrew Collinge Hairdressing has its own internal management training programme and plans to further formalise this and it is also exploring the possibility of an apprenticeship around salon management. “Customer service is covered by the apprenticeship but as an employer we like to go a step further with on-the-job training in the salons,” says Collinge. “If you are going to train people, the whole process needs to be thought through and central to your recruitment and training strategy.”