A Letter to Mentors
Are you a piercer considering taking on an apprentice? That’s awesome! We absolutely need more skilled, well trained piercers in the industry, and more piercers willing to put in the work and be good mentors. Strong mentors create strong piercers, and will shape the next generation of our industry. Teaching us a huge commitment, and a labor of love for anyone who decides to do it. Mentors sacrifice a lot, from time and money to studio space and personal lives, in order to become good mentors. But the key here is being a good mentor. There are plenty of bad mentors out there producing piercers that are barely piercers or doing things incorrectly. As someone who has personally experienced bad apprenticeships, I feel strongly that anyone deciding to become a mentor owes it to themselves, their apprentice, and this industry to give their apprentice the best start possible in this field. Here are some things to ask yourself and think about before deciding to take on an apprentice.
Am I Qualified to Teach?
Being a good piercer and being able to teach someone else to pierce are two entirely different skill sets. Teaching is an art form in and of itself, and just because you are good at something doesn’t mean you have the skills to show someone else how to do what you do. As a baseline, I think a piercer should have 10-15 years of experience in the industry before training someone. When I was a young piercer that number seemed vast to me, but now, coming up on my 9 year anniversary, I realize just how much you learn by experience. There are certain skills, certain facets of piercing that only come from doing it day in and day out, every week, for years. There is no way to speed up that process, it simply takes time. If you have’t been doing this for that long, I promise you there are things you haven’t learned or fully mastered that you will with time. And your apprentice deserves to learn from someone who has mastered all of those things. Ask yourself are there any voids in your education? Are you operating at or above industry standard? Beyond piercing, are you confident in teaching about sterilization, disinfection, gloves, needles, piercing history, anatomy, Bloodborne pathogens, bedside manner, energy exchange, metallurgy, jewelry, gemstones, studio management, social media, photography, jewelry ordering, everything that goes into piercing besides just piercing? Are their piercings you aren’t able to offer? Piercings you don’t feel 100% confident in? Are there areas of your studio that don’t meet industry standards or need improvement? What about equipment or supplies? Ask yourself if there is anything left you need to learn or focus on before you begin teaching someone else.
When it comes down to knowing how to teach, I suggest getting some smaller experience first. Invite other young piercers to shadow you. Open your studio doors to guest artists and visitors. Get some experience teaching and explaining and ask for feedback. Was my explanation clear? Did you understand the concepts I was trying to show you? Sometimes I’ve had coworkers shadow me and I’m feeling great after pulling off a perfect piercing and I turn to them and *crickets*. The way I worked and the way I explained things didn’t help them. It didn’t work for how they learned. Sure I did a good piercing, but they didn’t get as much out of it as they could have- I needed to adjust the way I worked and explained things to suit how they learned. This is why it’s not enough to be a good piercer- to be a mentor you much also be a good teacher.
Do I have the time for an Apprentice?
A good, quality apprenticeship can easily take 2-4 years for someone to learn everything they need to know. People learn at different speeds, and illness, injury, global pandemics, and other things can happen and delay training or delay learning. If you decide to take on an apprentice you should be planning to spend at least 2-4 years training them and working with them. As a mentor you want to make sure you have time to complete their apprenticeship fully. I see too many young apprentices whose mentors leave them halfway through training, and because they are only half trained and it’s very very hard for them to find someplace to go. If you commit to training someone, you need to commit to training them fully, not leaving or dropping it part way through. Don’t start something you can’t finish.
Can I Afford an Apprentice?
Legally in America you are required to pay your apprentices. We have something called the Fitzgerald Act which requires apprentices be paid a living wage- and had successfully been used in court to sue for back wages during apprenticeships. For many years this industry broke labor laws forcing apprentices to work unpaid. Not only was this illegal, it was just unethical. No one should have to work impossible hours at two jobs just to survive to become a body piercer. And a tired, hungry, poor apprentice is not going to do good work. If you can’t afford to pay your apprentice a living wage for the duration of their apprenticeship, you should not have an apprentice. Even as laws in other countries may differ, it’s still no excuse to be unethical and inhumane. Apprentices work hard for you and your studio, and should be paid for that work.
Do I have a place for my Apprentice?
When your apprentice is finished with their training, they will need a place to go. Many studios won’t hire without 2-4 years experience post apprenticeship. If you are choosing to take on an apprentice, do you have space at your studio for them to work there as a piercer once they are finished? Does your studio have the volume to support your apprentice and your current piercers with comfortable living wages? It’s not fair to your apprentice to train them and then leave them with no employment once they have finished their training. If you take on an apprentice, it should be with the goal of adding another piercer to your team long term.
Training an apprentice is a major undertaking. Many of us come from less the ideal or plain bad apprenticeships. We know what it is like to be trained incorrectly, to come up short, or realize later in our career how much we lack. No one else deserves to go through that. Improving the quality of apprenticeships is a major way we will improve the quality of this industry, and ensure that future generations of piercers are better, stronger, safer piercers then those who came before them. Before taking on an apprentice please really seriously ask yourself if you are ready, 100%, to give your apprentice the training and entrance to this industry that they deserve.
Cover Photo featuring Ian Bishop, Melody Novak, and Natasha Solomons from an Icon Studio Workshop on surface piercings.