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Monday, January 18, 2021
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Close shave for apprentice barbers in 2020

Barbering seems like an apprenticeship that couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be taught remotely.

Scissors, combs and clippers are a barbers tools.
Scissors, combs and clippers – the tools of the trade. Image: Kerrie Brewer

But during the pandemic, Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) instructors Emma Gorrell and Ben Tuita had to make it work.

“When COVID hit [March 2020], that week we had to work from home,” Ms Gorrell said.

“So I was doing online classes, cutting in the living room.

“And then a lot of the course was online, that’s all we could do – the theory and stuff online.”

For three months, Ms Davis taught via video link, demonstrating barbering techniques on a mannequin in her living room and emailing written assignments to complete during isolation.

That way, if or when the world opened again, students could pick up their scissors and focus on the practical tricks of the trade.

Thankfully for students Aden Walker and Cody Hawkins, Ms Davis’ plan worked.

Both apprentices were enrolled in two semesters simultaneously in a race to the finish, and Ms Davis relied heavily on their employers to allow them to complete assessment at work.

Mr Hawkins said his employment at Barbers Inc., located at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in Barton, was tenuous during lockdown and he didn’t know if he’d have a job to go back to.

“In one week, it went from being a steady flow of work to ‘Can you boys come out for a meeting’,” he said.

“So, I guess that was the most stressful for me, losing my job, and then not knowing if I’m going to get it back again.”

Mr Hawkins needed work in a barbershop to finish his Australian School-based Apprenticeship.

“The thing is, I think I had such an emotional attachment to the people that I worked with in the place that I was working that I don’t know if I would have actually finished my apprenticeship.

“I didn’t really want to start from scratch somewhere else.”

When social distancing restrictions eased customers were allowed back in the barber’s chair. Image: Kerrie Brewer

Luckily, business began to improve as public servants returned to their offices.

“I literally don’t know how they have so many breaks in that building!

“They come in and say ‘Oh, I’m just on a break at the moment’, and then they come back 15 minutes later and get a coffee.

“And I’m like, that’s your fourth break today, man.”

With international travel out of the question, Mr Hawkins said he planned to transition to full-time work after finishing Year 12.

“I feel like it’s going to be a bit hectic, so I’m a bit nervous about that. But I guess it’s like every teenager going into being an adult.”

Both young men told Canberra Weekly they decided to study a school-based barbering apprenticeship while sitting down for a trim.  

“I thought, you know, as much as I do like school, I feel better in a work environment, and an adult one,” Mr Walker said.

Image: Kerrie Brewer

“I was getting my hair cut and I’d been seeing my barber for maybe four years prior.

“And I just randomly thought, ‘Yeah, I want to give it a crack. What’s the worst that could happen? If I don’t like it, I don’t like it. If I do like it, then it’s a good job’.”

Mr Walker approached his barbershop, Kriss Kross at the Australian National University (ANU), and they agreed to take him on.  

Although business slumped during the peak of the coronavirus crisis, Mr Walker said it picked up approaching the festive season and he was busy cutting “a lot more mullets” for a diverse clientele at ANU.

“It’s good because it’s a cultural place, multicultural.

“We definitely see people from all walks of life there, so it’s good, because you get completely different people almost every half an hour, studying completely different things.”

He said he liked the social aspect of his chosen profession.

“You obviously talk to [customers], you listen to them, and you meet a lot of interesting people.”

This story is part of the Canberra Weekly Class of 2020 series, sharing stories from inspiring young Canberrans throughout the summer.

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