‘I’m not trying to be a doctor. I just want to cut men’s hair’

Seems excessive. Doubt that my local Italian Canadian barber who has been cutting hair for years needed such certification:

With a diploma and more than 15 years of experience as a barber in Iraq, Benjamin Gbo’s dream is to open his own shop in Toronto to support his family. But he can’t even cut anyone’s hair in a salon without a hairstylist licence in Ontario.

A native of Mosul, Gbo has made five failed attempts at the hairstylist exam mandated by the Ontario College of Trades, the professional regulatory body of 23 compulsory skilled trades in the province.

“There are too many rules that stop you from working as a hairstylist here. They test you on all these names of bacterial infections and medical terms that I have never heard of,” said the 43-year-old, who fled to Canada in 2008 and was granted asylum shortly after.

“I’m not trying to be a chemist or a doctor. I just want to cut men’s hair and shave their beard to make them look nice, and make a living.”

According to the regulatory body, there are approximately 35,000 certified hairstylists in the province. Each must pass the multiple-choice exam administered by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development in their apprenticeship offices across Ontario.

All candidates write the same interprovincial exam, developed by licensed hairstylists across Canada to “reflect the training and on the job competencies of the occupation.” The college also enforces the legislation to ensure workers and employers are in compliance through education, warnings, notices of contravention and fines up to $5,000 for first offence and $10,000 for second offence.

Anyone who wants to become a hairstylist must study the Standard Textbook of Cosmetology published by Milady Publishing for the licensing exam, which contains 120 questions divided into eight parts: occupational skills; hair and scalp care; cutting; styling; chemically waving and relaxing hair; colour; wigs, hairpieces and extensions; sales and marketing. The passing score is 70 per cent. It doesn’t matter if someone like Gbo just wants to cut and shave men’s hair; they need to take the same exam.

Some immigrant hairstylists do go straight for the exam while others choose to do 3,020 hours of apprenticeship and 480 hours of in-school training in Ontario so they can practise and make a living as they prepare for the test.

Emilina Garzon finished a two-year college diploma in hairstyling as well as manicure and pedicure in Colombia and worked there for three years before being sponsored to Canada by her husband in 2010.

She started her apprenticeship in Toronto in 2015 and has taken a two-month full-time refresher course and tried some mock exams for practice.

“In Colombia, we also have classroom and practical training. We are tested on our skills,” said the 35-year-old Bogota native, as she did a buzz cut on a Bay St. client at a downtown barber shop. “This licensing exam is hard.”

The college does allow candidates to have an interpreter and dictionary at the exam, but Gbo said it doesn’t help when the interpreter has no knowledge of the technical and professional hairstyling terms in English and candidates’ mother tongue.

“You have to pay for the translator and they can’t translate the terms because they can’t be found in the dictionary,” said Gbo, who has paid more than $1,000 in exam fees and translator help. “I don’t do women’s hair, colour or perm. Why can’t they do the licensing like the driver’s licence with G1, G2 and G3 (classification)?”

San San Maw, owner of Ivan Hair Salon where Garzon is an apprentice, said she appreciates the regulator’s job is to protect consumers, but as an employer, she is more interested in the skills of her hairstylists than their scores in a multiple-choice exam.

“I had to fire three hairstylists. They all passed the exam and got their (licensing) certificates, but they didn’t know how to cut hair and my customers just walked out,” said Maw, a Burmese immigrant with a university degree in physics, who failed the licensing exam herself three times.

Starting Jan. 1 this year, new apprentices registered in the hairstylist apprenticeship program are required to complete a practical assessment as well as the written exam to obtain certification, said the regulator, but the first practical assessments won’t be available until early next year.

“The College of Trades recognizes that the profile of Ontario’s labour market is changing,” said the College’s CEO George Gritziotis.

“We are working to build partnerships with community groups, immigrant serving agencies, industry stakeholders, apprenticeship training organizations, and governments to undertake initiatives that provide these workers the supports and tools needed to ensure we are able to adequately assess their skills and prior work experience.”

The regulator said it does work with registrants to find solutions to ensure practitioners have the qualifications needed to safely and competently do the work and are successful in passing the exam, but “a fully trained hairstylist is expected to know the terms used in their profession.”

Source: ‘I’m not trying to be a doctor. I just want to cut men’s hair’

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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