Written evidence submitted by The National Hair & Beauty Federation (NHBF)





The National Hair & Beauty Federation (NHBF) has around 6,000 Members and is the UK’s largest trade body for the hair, beauty and barbering industries. The NHBF focuses on helping members to run successful and profitable hair and beauty businesses by providing advice, specialist support and tailored services to meet the unique challenges of running a salon or barbershop.


Current business context and impact of Covid


The hair, beauty and barbering sector is made up of around 46,000 businesses, mostly small and micro businesses operating in communities across the UK. The sector makes a significant contribution to the UK economy, with £5.5 billion spent on services in 2019-20[1] and consumer spend across the whole sector totalling £27.2 billion[2] in 2018. Salon businesses are led predominantly by female entrepreneurs, and provide valuable careers to 257,000 people, more than half aged 18-35, across the UK.


State of the Industry quarterly survey for September (note: these results will be published shortly)


Rising energy and business costs and declining consumer confidence has meant that a sense of uncertainty has replaced the signs of recovery that we saw in July:

Executive summary and key recommendations


Thank you for the opportunity to put forward our views. We will focus on those issues raised by the Committee inquiry that are most relevant to us and targeted at the Department for Education (DfE) and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).








  1. Scale of the skills challenge - skills crisis in the hair & beauty sector

There is currently a skills crisis in the hair & beauty sector. The NHBF report Careers at the cutting edge: tackling skills shortages in the hair and beauty sector[5], set out a number of interlinked factors across education and qualifications, recruitment and retention and financial pressures that are combining to form a skills crisis in the sector (figure 1).


Figure 1


The report outlines that just as there is no one single cause, there is no one single solution either and sets out a series of possible interventions targeted at government, education providers, industry and salons themselves (figure 2). Only by making multiple interventions will we start to solve the skills crisis; a piecemeal response will not secure a vibrant sector and meaningful careers in the future.

Figure 2


In more detail:


Our core recommendations for Government coming out of the report are:



Areas where the NHBF and the sector are taking action include:


Recruitment challenges and unfilled vacancies

Around 57% of hair and beauty businesses reported that they had unfilled vacancies in March 2022 and half of hair salons said it took them more than 16 weeks on average to fill a vacancy. The main issues that businesses faced were candidates lacking the required skills or suitable experience, but also insufficient funds to pay salaries and lack of government financial support.


Declining apprenticeship starts

As self-employment has grown in the sector, the number of employers available to take on apprentices has fallen. Lower levels of funding have led to a dramatic decline in training provider delivering the standard. The requirement for 16- and 17-year olds to stay on in education has also meant fewer potential apprentices come forward.

Hair & beauty apprenticeship starts have fallen across the UK over the past five years. There were 7,000 starts on apprenticeships in England in 2020-21,[8] down from over 17,000 in 2016-17.

The NHBF report referred to previously estimates that, if current trends continue, and without necessary interventions, there could be fewer than 3,400 hair & beauty apprenticeship starts in the UK by 2025. Apprenticeship starts have been falling across all industries; however, apprenticeship starts in hair and beauty in England are decreasing at a faster rate than apprenticeships overall.

  1. Impact of Brexit on the hair and beauty sector

The NHBF report[9] outlines in more detail the impact of Brexit on recruitment, particularly of experienced staff in England. The impact in London and the South East of England was more than the rest of England, reflecting higher populations of European migrants in these areas prior to the referendum. England, Wales and Northern Ireland were more impacted than Scotland.

Within the hair and beauty sector, barbershops have been the worst affected, with half of survey respondents[10] finding Brexit has hindered their ability to find experienced staff.

  1. Hair and beauty experiencing skills shortages even more so than other sectors

The NHBF report demonstrates that the recruitment challenges and unfilled vacancies in the hair & beauty sector are currently even more pronounced than in other areas of the economy.

Structural changes - shift to self-employment

A cross-sector report from 2021[11] outlined the continuing shift towards self-employment in the sector, driven primarily by practitioners seeking greater autonomy. The main findings from the report included:

This shift presents problems for the sector because of the fact that it is salons, rather than self-employed individuals, that take on apprentices and develop them.

Local Data Company statistics indicated that over 7,300 business (16% of the industry) had been lost to the pandemic between 2020-21. The latest NHBF Industry Statistics Report for 2021 shows that the number of salon owners and managers fell by 7,800 (27.5%) between July 2020 and June 2021, with a significantly greater fall in female owners/managers. The total workforce declined by about 7,000 (2.5%) in 2020 and then a further 18,500 (6.5%) in 2021. This demonstrates both the shift to self-employment and staff leaving the sector for other roles in retail, hospitality and other areas of the economy.

  1. The role of Government and DfE in particular in supporting and promoting the sector; its understanding of workplace skills and how well it is doing.

Supporting the sector

Lack of financial support by Government was cited most often as a threat to apprenticeships - by more than 50% of businesses in the research which underpins the NHBF report.


Securing a future supply of apprenticeships is crucial to the health and vibrancy of the sector in the future. The main reason why businesses employ apprentices, cited by 72% of businesses, is because it is important for business growth and sustainability.


Enhanced funding for hair apprenticeship standard


The sector has a proud tradition of providing apprenticeships. Hairdressing is one of the most popular apprenticeship standards in terms of sheer numbers, ranking in twelfth place in the top 100 apprenticeships[12].


As requested by the Government in 2014-16, the sector developed a new and more demanding apprenticeship standard. The sector strongly supported these changes, which raised the bar in terms of quality and standards. The standard was backed by a representative funding band of £9,000. However, in 2018, the funding band was reduced to £7,000. This proved devastating for the hair and barbering industries, as it was not sufficient to support apprentices working towards the higher and more robust standard. The NHBF expressed its concerns at the time through submissions and correspondence[13].


Impact of reduced funding


Training providers have managed to stay afloat in recent years by effectively cross subsidising the apprentices on the lower funding band from the money received from those who were still operating on the higher funding band. However, as these apprentices are now completing their apprenticeships, the higher funding levels are no longer available, and training providers are coming under financial pressure.


We are aware through feedback from the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) hair and beauty forum that training providers are highly concerned that they will simply not be in a position to continue providing the standard on the lower funding rate.


The hair professional apprenticeship standard has recently been reviewed[14] again, and the new standard, which represents a further raising of the bar regarding equality, diversity and inclusion from the 2016 standard, was submitted to the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) in May 2022. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that, with the additional content, if the relevant funding band is not adequate for the new apprenticeship standard, training providers will not be able to deliver it, compounding issues around the recruitment of future talent to the sector.


The NHBF believes that the funding band allocated should reflect the content of the revised standard, and should therefore increase to the original funding band (£9,000), bringing it in line with the funding bands for other similar occupational competence standards.


More effective DfE support to promote the sector


The DfE could play a greater role in promoting education and training opportunities options in the sector to 16-18 years old, reflecting a modern, diverse and continually evolving sector, and facilitating central and local government collaboration and bringing together young people and employers at a local level.


We want DfE to encourage schools to take a broader view of the sector when they are explaining it to young people. There are wider opportunities available beyond salons or barbershops, in theatre, film and session work with international travel, as well as in product design and manufacturing (using STEM knowledge), retail, sales and marketing. The sector also offers a route into entrepreneurship and the skills and knowledge to be developed around owning, running and growing your own business.


Promotion of T levels and entry level skills

The Government is focused on the introduction and delivery of T-levels at the moment, which will be introduced in the hair and beauty sector in 2023.


T levels will become one of three major options for learners to study at Level 3, alongside apprenticeships and A levels. Taking into account the threats to the future of the sector, it is vital that we have a pipeline of talent, built on robust training and education to meet the needs of salons and barbershop businesses in the future. Employers in hairdressing or barbering will always prefer apprenticeships to T levels, as candidates gain more workplace experience and are more job ready. However, this route gives businesses another option, given the current difficulties with recruiting school leavers.


Employers will be able to use the work placements as part of T levels as an opportunity to identify young people they would want to take on and train further. Given that beauty therapy courses are well-established in colleges, and the level 3 beauty qualification is the competency level for insurance, entering the industry via the beauty therapy T level route will be popular.


Employers in the industry will want T level learners to pass the same independent end-point assessment as apprentices, because this is the only way to ensure that learners have the necessary ‘work-ready’ skills. There needs to be clear communication between careers advice services and the sector before the launch of the T-Levels to curb any misunderstanding relating to the technical pathway option the T-Level provides within the sector.


October 2022



[1] Industry Statistics 2021

[2] British Beauty Council ‘Value of Beauty’ Report, Oxford Economics (July 2019)

[3] The effects of the pandemic on the hair & beauty sector, Pragmatix Advisory Ltd for NHBF (February 2021) Hair, beauty and the pandemic: independent industry report - National Hair & Beauty Federation (nhbf.co.uk)

[4] Spotlight on apprenticeships

[5] NHBF report confirms skills crisis in hair & beauty - National Hair & Beauty Federation

[6] Not 'Just' a Hairdresser – Creative HEAD Magazine

[7] The Big Blow Out - All 4 (channel4.com)

[8] NHBF Industry statistics

[9] Careers at the cutting edge: tackling skills shortages in the hair & beauty sector, page 49 (April 2022)

[10] NHBF skills survey as part of Careers at the Cutting-edge skills report, (April 2022)

[11] Self-Employment in the Personal Care Sector Report - National Hair & Beauty Federation (nhbf.co.uk)

[12] Top 100 Apprenticeships | The Apprentice Academy

[13] https://www.nhbf.co.uk/news-and-blogs/news/outcry-from-the-hair-industry-as-funding-for-the-hair/

[14] https://www.instituteforapprenticeships.org/reviews-and-consultations/route-reviews/hair-and-beauty-route-review-summary-report/