Manicurist or Nail Technician Certification & Training Guide

Whether you’re new to the workforce, an amateur manicurist, or looking for a change in your professional life, the career of a manicurist/nail technician offers a lot of potential. As independent contractors, manicurists and nail technicians get to set their own hours, allowing for flexibility to fit your life and plenty of work hours. That also means more pay.

But the earning potential of a manicurist isn’t the only up-sell for people interested in diving into this exciting and social career. This profession is also creative, providing you with dozens of new clients every day, each with unique tastes and demands. 

The nail technology industry is booming! For some background information, look no further than the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which estimates manicurists’ and pedicurists’ job growth to be 10%, with a stunning 19% increase in employment from 2019-2029, way above national averages.

As the US population skyrockets, the demand for talented nail technicians will only rise, along with median pay (current at $25,770 per year).

What Does a Manicurist/Nail Technician Do?


Manicurists and nail techs aren’t necessarily required to have a background in cosmetology before working in their preferred job post. Although many manicurists work extensively with cosmetics, the most crucial skill for manicurists and nail techs is being comfortable working in very close contact with your clients.

Professionals looking to work in the nail technician industry are well-known for their diverse technique sets. In addition to manicures and pedicures, nail techs commonly find themselves completing the following tasks:

  • Polishing and buffing nails
  • Promoting and even selling in-house nail care and skincare products
  • Customer service
  • Providing an open ear for clients to share and communicate daily concerns
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Filing, cleaning, and moisturizing nails, hands, and feet
  • Light massage
  • Nail applications and skilled nail painting services

One thing to note is the added benefits that many technicians find are also available in similar professions like hair styling. While it’s not necessary to have a professional background in cosmetics to land your dream job as a nail technician, a resume that includes experience with hair, massage, and other relevant professions will increase your marketability.

People interested in extending their career in nail technology should know that most of their tasks are physically demanding. Additionally, they put you close to chemicals and sharp utensils, and payment can change according to the development of a so-called “bed-side manner,” i.e., having a kind expression and comfortable, understanding demeanor.

Where Do Manicurists/Nail Technicians Work?


Besides the exciting variation in on-the-job experiences and techniques you get to improve on every day, manicurists work in a large variety of locations with a broad clientele base.

The most common areas for professionals to work is in spas, airports, nail salons, and even cruise ships. Since you’re in command of how many clients you service per day, you get to control your workload. That means flexible hours, meeting new faces every day, and preventing muscle strain (many techs find that too many full days worked consecutively is draining to the hands and sitting muscles).

Most manicurists’ and nail technicians’ work in environments that are busy, loud, and can be messy before disinfecting services are applied to workstations. Techs use a variety of tools like nail clippers, files, and specialized cuticle equipment.

The majority of nail technicians work full-time, 8-hour days, though variable schedules are typical.

Why Become a Manicurist or Nail Technician?


With many possibilities to open a self-employed business, operate under flexible hours in various locations, and the daily opportunities to show off your advanced nail skills, there are tons of great reasons to become a manicurist or nail technician.

About 70% of manicurists and nail techs active in 2018 declare working in personal care service, meaning working as an employee in the businesses mentioned above. The remaining 28% of reported techs were self-employed.

Starting your own manicuring business may be scary, but the increased income potential is more than likely to make it a good choice.

In May 2019, the average hourly wage reported by manicurists was $12.40. However, there are many opportunities to increase hourly pay due to the variable work schedules available to many nail techs. Longer workdays are not uncommon for self-employed manicurists, for example.

Another big plus for prospective nail technicians is job availability. There are very few large- or medium-sized US cities that won’t benefit from a new nail technician’s services. Since many nail service outfits experience an explosion of business on weekends, evenings, and the times before and after holidays, there are always openings for qualified techs out there.

As trends toward healthy, fashionable lifestyles grow, the demand for professional nail products and technicians grows as well. Grooming and wellness lifestyles are trendy among all genders. Customers are eager to sample the expert services of low-cost luxury technicians like manicurists. The job future is bright!

How to Become a Manicurist


Now that we’ve talked a little about the background, demands, and skillsets that accomplished nail technicians need to have to succeed, it’s time to discuss what it takes to become one.

The majority of manicurists and nail techs complete a state-sponsored program requiring a training period as well as a terminal exam (written and practical). The details will follow.

GED or High School Diploma


To enroll in most cosmetology programs for manicurists, you need to be 16 years old, have a GED or high school diploma, and pay the program’s dues (usually at a reasonable price). Additionally, some programs will ask applicants to conduct an entrance interview with school representatives to evaluate how ready applicants may be for the program.

GEDs or high school diplomas are required for every program nation-wide. If you find yourself lacking the appropriate credentials, there are resources out there that will allow you to quickly gain a GED with the guidance of nationally-certified pros.

Salary and Job Outlook


The average hourly pay and salary outlook for incoming nail technicians varies widely along state boundaries and prior experience. However, one thing is consistent along all metrics: work hour flexibility and the opportunity to split from established salons and spas to your own self-owned space.

According to PayScale, the average hourly pay for nail technicians in the US today is $11.71. Entry-level techs earn on average 12% less than their experienced colleagues, indicating a high appreciable value for certified, licensed professionals. The most experienced techs make upwards of $15 an hour, comparatively.

Manicurists earn relatively similar hourly wages: $11.92. However, the differential shifts up exponentially for experienced manicurists/practitioners. They make above $20 per hour.

The main takeaway that prospective manicurists and nail technicians should glean from the labor statistics is the drastic increase in wages that licensed and experienced practitioners gather. They enjoy a massive increase, over $8 an hour, with the addition of a license.

Compare the national mean averages of manicurists with employees declaring under ‘Personal Care Services’. They declare an average of $12.19 hourly. Late-career nail techs can expect to gain a similar wage at the entry-level. Experienced techs, earning closer to $20 per hour, earn higher than all similar job types, even Civil and Social Organization members ($15.74).

Average employment for manicurists increases on the coasts (southern California is especially overloaded with nail salons) and in Illinois. The total number of techs also follows a similar state-by-state trend. However, the annual mean wage for manicurists peaks in the north; Minnesota, Iowa, Idaho, and Washington in particular.

Requirements


The path to becoming a licensed manicurist or nail technician is paved with excellent resources and easy-to-understand professional requirements. Ultimately, the amount of time it takes to acquire a license depends on your state and program. Most programs require around 300 hours of training, which applicants spread out over several weeks (15 or so).

For clarity, manicurists and nail technicians have to complete equivalent training and testing/apprenticeships to be licensed to practice in their respective states. The good news is that training is quick, and licenses are relatively straightforward to acquire! Every state except Connecticut requires licenses. Generally, students go through about 300 hours of training, complete a written exam and a final practical exam (done in-person with live models). It’s that simple! Now let’s get into more of the details.

Necessary Skills


Manicurists and nail technicians are a special breed. Generally speaking, they’re blessed with a set of techniques, both soft and hard skills, and a drive to please their customers. Here are a few skills that will resonate with good manicurists and nail techs.

  • Organization:
    Behind the scenes in many nail salons and spas, many moving parts are going on simultaneously. Nail technicians must be good at juggling multiple tasks such as being presentable and kind to customers, taking orders on the fly, and completing extensive nail applications.
  • Communication Skills:
    Many nail techs take double duty as the welcoming first face customers meet when they enter your establishment, as well as the meticulous aesthetic crafter of beautiful nail design. You want to have a firm, businesslike voice, an open ear for customer requests, and the ability to ask questions.
  • Creativity:
    There are few professions out there that allow for greater creative freedom than those exercised by nail technicians. Think: every new face who enters your door is a brand-new chance to show your best acrylic nail services or watercolor designs. The potential to redefine your personal style grows day by day.
  • Attention to Detail:
    A dedicated manicurist needs to develop a keen sense of patience and meticulous regard for detail. A rushed effort will reflect on personal reputation, so the stakes are high to deliver consistently high-quality designs, polishes, and skincare.

Manicurist Training and Other Certification


The best resource to check out before you go off investigating the programs available to you in your state is the National Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC). Their site offers exam prep tips, resources for state-to-state certification issues, as well as ways to stay up to date with current cosmetology news.

For most prospective cosmetology graduates, the training program will consist of three distinct phases: a lengthy training session, a written exam demonstrating technical expertise of proper rules and standards, and a practical exam performed in person with a live model. A small number of programs operate with an apprenticeship system, as well.

As stated before, the prerequisites to join a licensing program are being over the age of 16, possession of a GED or high school diploma, and the appropriate fees. Some competitive schools demand a short in-person interview to limit entry to the best students.

Most programs have price tags above $1,000. In Utah, the Paul Mitchell school asks for $1,818, a $100 application fee, $2,400 in tuition fees, and around $2,000 in equipment. Students should be aware that these rates fall on the low end when compared to nationwide polls.

Most nail technician programs will ask for between 300 to 600 hours of training before the testing component. While some applicants can surpass the average completion time depending on the amount of training each program permits students to accomplish, the majority of nail technicians gain their certificate in three to nine months.

Go to your state-approved local program for more information. Each state requires a different amount of training and testing. Inquiring with instructors in your state will help narrow down the time commitments and exam requirements you’ll have to fulfill on the way to gaining your well-deserved license!

Manicurist Training and Other Certification


The best resource to check out before you go off investigating the programs available to you in your state is the National Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC). Their site offers exam prep tips, resources for state-to-state certification issues, as well as ways to stay up to date with current cosmetology news.

For most prospective cosmetology graduates, the training program will consist of three distinct phases: a lengthy training session, a written exam demonstrating technical expertise of proper rules and standards, and a practical exam performed in person with a live model. A small number of programs operate with an apprenticeship system, as well.

As stated before, the prerequisites to join a licensing program are being over the age of 16, possession of a GED or high school diploma, and the appropriate fees. Some competitive schools demand a short in-person interview to limit entry to the best students.

Most programs have price tags above $1,000. In Utah, the Paul Mitchell school asks for $1,818, a $100 application fee, $2,400 in tuition fees, and around $2,000 in equipment. Students should be aware that these rates fall on the low end when compared to nationwide polls.

Most nail technician programs will ask for between 300 to 600 hours of training before the testing component. While some applicants can surpass the average completion time depending on the amount of training each program permits students to accomplish, the majority of nail technicians gain their certificate in three to nine months.

Go to your state-approved local program for more information. Each state requires a different amount of training and testing. Inquiring with instructors in your state will help narrow down the time commitments and exam requirements you’ll have to fulfill on the way to gaining your well-deserved license!

Continuing Education


Armed with a state-certified cosmetology license, the future is open for almost unlimited movement into other industries or upward toward self-ownership of your own salon or spa.

About 50% of US states demand technicians keep up to date with current best practices, industry news, and regulations by taking periodic CE (or continuing education) classes. This is a great opportunity to grow your professional development with more extensive training.

The necessary time commitments change from state to state, and some states only demand CE credits from instructors, like Oklahoma and Virginia. The requirements vary. Vermont techs must take renewal CE courses every two years while Wyoming works under a different calendar.

The point is, people invested in developing their education as a nail technician or manicurist have lots of opportunities to expand their skill sets to adjacent industries. Ever thought about checking out hair or massage therapy to supplement your existing techniques? There is lots of space available to move horizontally from one specialty to another, all while maintaining your license as a licensed cosmetologist.

Similar Careers


Are you interested in nail care but have a serious passion for an industry a little to the side of it? No problem! Nail technology workers participate in a wide variety of similar careers, from barber services and hairstyling to skincare, massage, and physical therapy.

The good news is that many careers adjacent to nail technology command similar hourly wages.

  • Barbers earn on average $12.63 per hour 
  • Hairdressers earn $11.75
  • Hair Salon Managers $14.34
  • Skincare Specialists $16.39
  • Massage Therapists lead the list at $20.59 per hour

Consistently and across the board, all these industries require applicants to complete their certification processes. Costs vary from state to state. If you’re thinking of taking a serious interest in a career in personal care services, make a call today to inquire about starting the certification process.

Conclusion


State-approved cosmetology or nail technician programs have always asked for more applicants. Still, under today’s economy, the time has never been more appropriate for the nail techs and manicurists of the future to invest their time and money in a state license.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a 19% increase in demand for manicurists’ services in the next ten years. Demand is high! With a relatively low cost of entry, a few hundred hours of training, and a passing grade, you can realize your dreams to become a manicurist or nail technician starting tomorrow!

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