An idea groomed to succeed

We are intrigued by an idea being proposed by Vivo Hair Salon and Day Spa owner Vi Vo Nguyen to broaden rules governing education for hair and cosmetology salons in West Virginia.

Nguyen, whose Harpers Ferry shop has been open for six years, wants the state Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists to recognize apprenticeships for salon workers. In 2011, she spearheaded an effort that was later signed into law by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to allow shampooers to receive their training through an apprenticeship rather than through formal schooling. With her latest appeal, she’d like to see the rules changed to allow apprenticeship education for other specialized skills in salon work.

It’s not a bad idea. Currently, a number of other states, including Maryland and Virginia credit on-the-job training as education. From Nguyen’s perspective, it allows her to keep qualified help and ultimately pay them more, sidestepping a requirement that cosmetology candidates saddle themselves with student loan debt, but resulting in the likelihood that more might remain to practice in West Virginia.

That’s not Nguyen’s only good idea, however. As a first-generation American from Vietnam, she said she has seen the effect the state board’s language restrictions have on the ability of non-English speakers to get work. Indeed, she says her own mother has failed the state’s cosmetology test five times and has now sought work in another state. West Virginia is one of the few states that don’t offer the test in another language, a confounding reality given the growing ethnic diversity of the country, and most especially, the D.C. metropolitan area. If the state board of cosmetology can make accommodations for hearing impaired candidates, as it does, surely it can offer the test in a language other than English.

Other improvements to state law that Nguyen is lobbying for include extending the length of time a cosmetology license lasts. Currently, West Virginia issues a license that must be renewed annually. That’s good business for the state of West Virginia, less so for salon practitioners.

A bill to address some of Nguyen’s concerns is apparently expected to be introduced this month to the legislature.

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