Toronto Star

‘I just want to cut men’s hair’

Hairstylis­t licence can be elusive for newcomers


With a diploma and more than15 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 43year-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 such as 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 practice 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 the 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 multiplech­oice 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.”

“Why can’t they do the licensing like the driver’s licence with G1, G2 and G3 (classifica­tion)?” BENJAMIN GBO

 ?? NICHOLAS KEUNG/TORONTO STAR ?? Emilina Garzon has a two-year diploma in hairstylin­g from Colombia. She says the licensing exam in Canada is hard.
NICHOLAS KEUNG/TORONTO STAR Emilina Garzon has a two-year diploma in hairstylin­g from Colombia. She says the licensing exam in Canada is hard.

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