As an 11-year-old, Trecia McPherson loved helping out at her mother's hairdressing salon, practising hairstyles on a mannequin head and learning how to do cornrows.
Seven years later, she's turning make believe into reality with an apprenticeship that has given her a head start in a trade she loves.
"I always liked hairdressing and gained more interest in it as I got older," says McPherson, a Grade 12 student at Central Peel Secondary School in Brampton, Ont.
"I try to make everyone feel comfortable," says hairdressing apprentice Trecia McPherson.
She signed up with the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) and has been working at House of Mann Hair Design in Brampton since September.
Tasks include shampooing hair, making appointments and helping keep the salon clean. But she especially enjoys meeting new people. "I try to be as friendly as possible and make everyone feel comfortable," McPherson says.
That's particularly important in hairdressing, says her employer. "This is a people business," says salon owner Manny Sa. "It's a very personal business. There aren't many professions like this, where you physically touch people. We meet them and moments later are shampooing their hair. That touch builds trust. It's really important.
"Trecia seems to have a knack for working with people," he says. "She's a fantastic student."
Introducing students to the trade is an important responsibility, Sa believes. "The only way our field can benefit is by encouraging that kind of activity," he says. "I started as an apprentice 29 years ago. I think it's a great program...Without apprenticeship, I wouldn't have been able to afford an education. I've owned my own business for 23 years. Apprenticeship helped me help myself."
OYAP is introducing thousands of students like McPherson to the construction, automotive, manufacturing and services trades while they're still in high school.
Not only does it provide a path to their chosen destination, it also provides a valuable shortcut.
That's because students earn co-operative education credits through placement in an apprenticeship while completing their diploma.
At the same time, the hours they work on the job are put towards journeyperson certification.
But apprenticing is a challenging road, says Sheron Young, McPherson's co-op teacher. "The trades are very demanding. They're technical and theoretical."
Because students are asking an employer to invest in them, they must demonstrate a commitment to the trade.
"Students have to prove themselves to an employer," Young says. "I let them know that an employer doesn't have to sign them on as an apprentice or keep them on.
"It's about how they work, their interest and their willingness to learn. In Trecia's case, she impressed her employers enough within the first two weeks that they were willing to sign her on as an apprentice ...
"She wasn't expected to work weekends, but wanted to because that's when the salon does wedding parties. That shows her interest."
Apprenticing gives students a chance to investigate a career before investing time and money in a post-secondary education that may not be right for them.
"A student can explore a career and make a decision on whether they like it," Young says. "If they don't like it, they can go back to the drawing board."
(Linda White (email@example.com
) is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont.)
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