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What is a Barber and What Do They Do?

Barbers are a vital part of every community. Receiving a first haircut is often considered something of a rite of passage. After all, it takes a good deal of trust to have someone using a straight razor on your face or neck, not to mention fluttering scissors that send hair flying into your eyes. Though barbering used to be a profession that was built on informal apprenticeships, now there are formal licensure processes that states require. This not only protects consumers from bad haircuts but when you have a license your abilities cannot be questioned.

As a profession, barbers have many options. You can work as an independent stylist or you might wind up cutting hair for celebrities. Many accrue experience and open their own shop where they can cultivate their own culture of barbers and cosmetologists. The choice is up to you. Please enjoy this page that discusses how to become a barber.

Steps to Becoming a Barber

A barber is a professional who cuts hair and helps people look their best. Some are artful stylists while other barbers provide utilitarian haircuts that look good, but which may lack flair. Ultimately, every barber is able to cater to their specific clientele. Some specialize in intricate hair coloring jobs and detailed layering while others deliver quality buzz cuts to plain-spoken gentlemen.

To do this job, all barbers must be able to work in close proximity with their clients. They must also have a keen ear and be able to hear what their customer is looking for in a haircut or style. It's also important to be a good conversationalist since many customers like to chat while they get their hair cut. In fact, barbershops have a long tradition of being community hubs where people share news and gossip.

  • Step 1: Education Requirements

  • Step 2: Internship or Apprenticeship

  • Step 3: Licensing & Certifications

  • Step 4: Continuing Education and License Maintenance


Step 1: Education Requirements

Every barber or stylist needs to start out with a high school diploma or a general equivalency degree (GED). The GED option is for those who can't or don't wish to complete a traditional high school diploma. Some know they aren't headed for college so skip out on their senior exams and take the GED exam while others may need to leave school for a variety of reasons, including health. The GED offers a terrific option that carries the same weight as a high school diploma, in many circumstances.

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Not only will you need this credential to attend a barber training or certification course, but you'll be glad you have basic math and verbal skills to help conduct your business. If you later decide to head to college, many find that the local community college will honor either a GED or a traditional diploma.

To become a barber, you will need to have a certain talent for cutting hair. That's the bottom line. Your state may also require that you attain a license. Licensure can involve intensive schooling and even an internship period, depending on the state. In years past it was possible to attain a license by doing little more than paying a fee, but these days states have begun to crack down on the profession and are insisting on more advanced credentials.

Some may even require certain certificates before you can offer certain services. For instance, you may be required to prove your skills before you can legally dye hair, give a perm, or apply extensions. Regardless of state requirements, it's a good idea to start a career with a certificate from a licensed barber school or cosmetology school. This the best way to start a career as an unknown.

You can find barber training through any number of schools. Many community colleges and vocational schools offer a certificate course for future barbers, cosmetologists, and stylists. These are often publicly funded institutions with lower tuition. Then there are private beauty schools or barbering colleges that offer state approved courses that will prepare you for full, state licensure.

Step 2: Internship or Apprenticeship

While many colleges offer courses for students at reasonable price points, internships are not standard within the field. As a result, the majority of programs tend to offer limited practical training cutting hair on real models and graduates may have to wait until they are employed to gain hands-on experience. Programs typically take one to two years to complete, with classes available in the evenings for current professionals.

Some states allow individuals to complete a barbering apprenticeship instead of enrolling in traditionally structured classes. Apprenticeships tend to take longer to complete, typically lasting two to four years. They are, however, ideal for those who learn best with direct hands-on training and one-on-one guidance.

Regulations vary, but most locations require applicants to be at least 16 years old and have a job working in a barber shop. Programs are designed to teach apprentices about business ethics and the safe use of sharp instruments, as well are prepare them for state examinations necessary to attain licensure. An apprenticeship officially ends once the individual is able to fulfill the state’s certification requirements. Regardless of whether an individual attends a college or completes an apprenticeship, he or she must remain current on all continuing education requirements after licensure.

Step 3: Licensing & Certifications

It's important to find out what your state requires for licensure. You might start by asking your favorite stylist when you venture in for your next cut. Since their information might be outdated, you should also ask for any information regarding the website for your state's Board of Cosmetology. Keep in mind that they may go by some other name. Your barber may be able to help you find the website, since not every state's web presence is as organized or efficient as we might like.

Regardless, once you find a barber training school or cosmetology college, they should have the relevant licensing information. You may also find that your state has different licenses for barbers, estheticians, hair designers, nail technologists, and natural hair care professionals. Each license may have its own set of requirements for initial licensure and renewals.

Licensure is often a rather straightforward process. First, you'll need to complete and successfully pass a course in barbering or your chosen specialty. Your state will likely have a set number for hours of instruction that you must complete as part of your certificate as well as time spent in actual practice of barbering, cosmetology, or your specialty area. You may also need to pass a criminal background check, be fingerprinted by the state, and offer letters of recommendation. There are also fees that you should be prepared to pay. Finally, there may be a practical examination that covers specific details in your barbering practice. There may also be an examination that covers the state laws and regulations that will govern your work.

Step 4: Continuing Education and License Maintenance

As a practicing barber or cosmetologist, you will need to renew your license with your state. These days this is probably done online. The process for a barber likely involves little more than paying a fee and filling out simple paperwork. However, if your license has been suspended or there is pending disciplinary action against you there may be additional steps. In a typical case, however, you will surely need to have your license number and a state issued ID card.

Most states don't require continuing education units (CEUs) for this license. However, you may wish to continue your learning so that you can advance in your level of expertise. You may also wish to add new skills, but your instructors could be your fellow barbers or cosmetologists who are interested in sharing their knowledge. If you wish to open your own salon, you should probably return to school for a degree in business administration or accounting. Who knows? Maybe you'll be able to open your own cosmetology school. Cosmetology programs can be quite lucrative.

Where Do Barbers Work?

Barbers typically work in barbershops or hair salons. Their working conditions often involve renting a space, including a barber chair, from the shop owner. In this way, barbers are rather entrepreneurial. However, their rental agreements often include certain stipulations such as keeping regular hours, being available to take walk-in clients, and even adhering to a standard for dress. In return, the shop owner agrees to keep the store clean, provides marketing support, and even employs a receptionist to handle appointments and walk-in customers.

On the other hand, some barbers can work from home and have clients have their hair cut in the barber's kitchen, or wherever they have set up their workspace. It's also possible for barbers to visit clients in their homes. This is a very versatile trade where practitioners can find their own niche.

Why Become a Barber?

Barbering is one of the most versatile career paths around. The entrepreneurial aspects of the career are very attractive in that it's possible to work the schedule that you choose and in the environment that feels best. Some work in chain barbershops located in shopping malls while others prefer independent shops where they can be more individual in how they conduct their business.

As for the pay, barbers can choose to add more skillsets that allow them to charge more. For instance, barbers that have strong skills with hair coloring and highlighting can fatten their wallets with those premium services. It's also possible to add adjacent skills related to make-up and even piercing.

Many barbers and stylists love the creativity in their job. Those that can help a man with thinning hair artfully cover a bald spot not only gain a client but also find great job satisfaction. Barbers can also make a career in show business. Their local film, television, or theatre scene may need someone who can style wigs for actors, which provides a great creative outlet.

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Barbering is also a career that allows great mobility. Many find that it's easy to pack up and move across the country and barely miss a day of work. It may also be possible to work while traveling, since barbershops may need skilled individuals to fill in for a day or two.

Many barbers and stylists decide to open their own shop. Once they have a few years of experience observing various business models, and meeting barbers with equal or complimentary skills, opening a shop is a great idea. It's important to start a shop with a team of hair styling professionals who are of a similar quality so that the shop can institute a consistent fee structure.

Professional Organizations

Many barbers, hair salon owners, and solo stylists opt to join professional organizations. There are numerous options available and each offers a wide variety of great benefits to current practitioners and students alike. Students, in particular, can use memberships as a means of learning more about the field and making important connections with current professionals. Most organizations also offer student memberships at a discounted rate.

While the specific member benefits vary, some of the most common reasons for joining a professional organization include easy access to resources, continuing education, license renewal information, and events. Organizations and associations also offer excellent networking opportunities, as well as potential job leads. Some groups even offer conferences, during which members can listen to qualified speakers, attend panels, and sign up for classes. Some of the most popular organizations and associations relevant to barbers include:

  • American Barber Association (ABA)
    The American Barber Association is a leading resource of information, education, recognition, support, connection, and advocacy for America’s barber industry. Members receive access to industry connections, business development assistance, student support, professional recognition and BarberSAFE Certification.
  • National Association of Barbers
    The National Association of Barbers helps professionals grow their barber businesses and protect their licensure. Members receive instant access to top barber brands, a free website, preferred group rates on insurance plans, marketing automation discounts, travel and lifestyle discounts, exclusive content, and more.
  • The International Beauty and Barber Association (IBBA)
    The International Beauty and Barber Association strives to promote the professional beauty industry through education, training, community outreach, advocacy, and events. The association offers different levels of membership, from Student Level up to Platinum Level. Depending on the membership type, potential benefits include a newsletter, discounts on tools and classes, networking opportunities, and community incentives.

Barber Career, Salary and Advancement Outlook

The salary possibilities for barbers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists are rather wider ranging. While some work at local barbershops others may provide highly personalized in-home services to wealthy clientele. Nevertheless, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes a median salary of $26,270 for the profession. They also show that the field will go into a decline by 1% through 2029. There could be many factors that might impact these figures such as the fact that many work as independent contractors or categorize their employment in some other way.

Find Your Trades Program's statistics for the profession indicate that the top end salary is around $79,000. Their figures are based on employment figures. Since many barbers are not technically employees but are entrepreneurial independent contractors, these figures may be off a bit. Further, if a barber opens their own shop, they might fall under a wholly different employment designation.

As their careers advance and their barbering skills improve, barbers are likely to start earning more money. This increase might simply be a function of inflation but those who cultivate a clientele who demands more intricate services you can charge more. Many barbers, stylists, and cosmetologists venture into independent business and either open their own salon or work on an on-call basis to their home or outcall to meet their clients.

Similar Careers

  • Skincare Specialists:
    These specialists work with people to optimize the health and beauty of their skin. The BLS shows that this field is experiencing high demand and will expand by 17% through 2029.
  • Manicurists and Pedicurists:
    This field aims to help people exfoliate, clean, and beautify their hands and feet. The BLS shows that demand for this profession is on the rise to the tune of 19% percent growth through 2029.
  • Tattoo Artists:
    This field requires a high level of artistic talent, attention to health and safety concerns, and a lot of creativity. The BLS doesn't have a specific category for these workers but they are similar to barbers in that they usually rent space in a tattoo shop, they often work from home as solo craftspeople, and they can open their own studio.
  • Beauty Supply Sales:
    When barbers get tired of standing on their feet all day long, they sometimes move into beauty supply sales. This position often involves driving to barbershops and salons to sell new products and help business owners discover new product lines that will improve their businesses.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Where do barbers work?

Most barbers work in barber shops but may also work in salons, spas, resorts, or hotels. Barbers can also open their own business and work as a freelance barber.

What skills make a good barber?

A good barber will have great communication, active listening, and good hand-eye coordination. Hair knowledge, interpersonal skills, and creativity also make up a good barber.

How long does it take to get a barber license?

The length of time it takes to get a barber license will depend on the state requirements. To get a barber license, you will need to complete a state specified number of education hours. The education generally takes around 10-12 months of school.

What does a freelance barber do?

A freelance barber is a barber that earns their wages on a job by job or task basis. A freelance barber is their own boss and generally makes their own schedule.

How much do barber shops make?

Owners of barber shops make around $27,000 annually.

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