The A-B Tech Barber Academy launched in January 2020 but unexpectedly had to suspend operations less than eight weeks later when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. As a hands-on program, most classes had to be delayed until the students could be taught in person.
Two and half years later, the first cohort of 11 graduates is prepared to graduate and sit for the Apprentice licensing examination by the North Carolina State Board of Barber Examiners. The program is one of few barber training programs in the state offered by community colleges and the only one offered west of Shelby.
“I am proud of the perseverance these graduates have shown.” said Jay Kaufmann, Coordinator and Lead Instructor of the Barber Academy. “With all of our lives turned upside down with the pandemic, these graduates never wavered, never lost their dedication and commitment to becoming professional barbers.”
During the pandemic, Kaufmann said his graduates persisted through months of suspended classes, splitting into two groups for training, eventually completing 30 months of classes instead of the usual 18 to 22 months, and learning a myriad of policies, procedures, and standards.
The employment outlook for barbering graduates is excellent, according to Kaufmann. “The need for professional barbers in WNC is at an all-time high. Since the barbering program at A-B Tech is the only one in WNC, our graduates will have employment opportunities wherever they go.”
Graduate Brock McKee at 21 is the youngest in the class and already has a job lined up once he passes the exam. “I think I was at the point in my life I needed to make a decision,” he said. “I looked up to my barber and thought that would be a great career choice. I enjoy the life lessons you learn from each person each day.”
A-B Tech began the Barber Academy at the request of area barber shops and hair salons that were unable to find qualified, trained barbers. Demand was apparent when dozens of people lined up on the first day of admissions for only 20 openings. Kaufmann has maintained a wait list and said new students will be admitted on a rolling basis going forward.
“’How hard can it be to learn how to cut hair?’ That’s the general thought pattern of students enrolling in the barbering program at A-B Tech,” Kaufmann said. “But if you ask the graduates, they will tell you how the degrees of angles are utilized; how the skin functions within their structures; what the bones, muscles, and nerves of the head, face, and neck have to do with barbering; how microbiology plays a part; and of course, client skills.”
Barbering programs in the State of North Carolina are required to provide a minimum of 1528 clock hours of instruction. The Barber Academy is a full-time program that would normally take 18 – 22 months to complete.
Kaufmann is a licensed registered barber and barbering instructor in North Carolina, and formerly was the head instructor at the Hair Styling Institute in Charlotte. He also has a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina.