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A Letter to New and Aspiring Apprentices

No industry is perfect, and that includes piercing and tattoos. As much as we wish the industry was, we must face the reality that elements of it are flawed. A large one is apprenticeships. While some awesome studios mare changing the face of what an apprenticeship looks like, many studios are stuck in the dark ages. As an apprentice, it can be difficult if not impossible to know if you are getting the proper training and education you deserve, and if things you are experiencing are normal. So this article goes out to you- this is a look at what red flags might occur in an apprenticeship, and things to watch out for to make sure you get the education and treatment you are worth.

An Apprenticeship should be Through

You will not become an amazing piercer overnight. You will not become an amazing piercer in a year. A big red flag in apprenticeships is a rushed apprenticeship. Anywhere promising to have you fully trained and piercing in weeks or months is misleading you. At the bare minimum a year, but most good apprenticeships take 2-4 years. There is no reality where someone learns everything there is to know in mere weeks or months. You should start working front of house, getting CPR and BBP certified, and learning about cleaning, sterilization, jewelry quality, bedside manner, and skin prep first. If your apprenticeship doesn’t include training in these areas, you are not getting the education you deserve. Piercing is about so much more than putting a needle through someone. How autoclaves work, how jewelry works and is made, why materials matter, the anatomy of the area you are piercing, anatomical variations you can expect, troubleshooting, how to help a client heal a piercing, how to talk to clients, how to calm a scared client, how to manage workflow. All of these are things that should be taught and discussed, often before you’ve ever picked up a needle. Don’t settle for being rushed through an apprenticeship.

Your mentor should also be excited to teach you things and share education with you. Being told “you don’t need to learn that” or “that’s not important” is a red flag. If it pertains to this industry, and you wanna learn it, you should learn it! If your mentor doesn’t know enough about that subject to teach it they should refer you to someone who can, or take the time to get educated themselves so they can teach you about it.

If your mentor has you piercing days or weeks into your apprenticeship, you are not getting the training you deserve. You need an understanding of the fundamentals like cleaning, sterilization, and jewelry, before you ever pierce. Many good mentors have you doing jewelry changes for a few weeks or months before you start piercing. Your mentor should also always be observing and watching you. This means for the entirety of your apprenticeship. If you’ve only done 2-10 of something and your mentor is letting you do them without some guidance or without them there, that’s a big red flag. As an apprentice you are putting in the hard work and effort required from learning this craft, and your mentor should be matching the level of work you put in. This includes observing you for hundreds and thousands of procedures. I promise- a good mentor can still find a way you can do something better, even the 1,000th time you done that thing.

An Apprenticeship should be Safe

Your apprenticeship should be a safe space. Now, your mentor won’t baby you, they will tell you how it is, tell you when you fuck up, and tell you when you are wrong. Your mentor may punish you for making a mistake or breaking rules, and you will often find yourself doing the least favorable tasks (cleaning, organizing, lunch runs, etc) But there is a difference between being a mentor and a teacher, and being abusive. Hazing, of any kind, isn’t acceptable in an apprenticeship. Verbal, physical, and sexual abuse, isn’t acceptable in any apprenticeship. Some old school mentors will try to tell apprentices they need to “earn” the right to be in this industry- by sexual favors, by forcing them to submit to humiliation, pain, tattooing their names or the studio names on apprentices, branding them with the shop key, forcing female apprentices to work in bikinis or topless, all sorts of old “traditional” hazing. All of this is unacceptable. If you have questions or doubts in your mind if something your mentor has done is normal or out of line, please reach out. Either to myself, or another reputable piercer, for advice. Get some outside perspective, but don’t accept what you are dealing with a normal.

Outside of hazing, the shop its self should be a safe space. Racist, Sexist, homophobic, or bullying comments are unacceptable. Your mentor and bosses have a right to call you out for being wrong or fucking up, but I hear too many apprentices who are used to being called slurs, names, and other things. Again- if you aren’t sure if your bosses or mentors are crossing the line, reach out and ask someone if what you are experiencing is normal.

An Apprenticeship should not violate local laws

It’s 2020. Studios are real, established businesses. We pay taxes, we have EIN’s, and we follow the laws. The years of operating under the table and without regard for the laws are done. That also means your apprenticeship should follow local laws as well. Are you an employee? You should get paid. Are you an independent contractor? You should get paid. The exact arrangement will be worked out between you and your mentor, but it should stand up to all the local laws about employment, compensation, etc. Maybe that means hourly wages. Maybe that means being tipped out. Maybe that means working counter for a paycheck some days, and having some apprenticeship days where you are unpaid. Either way, if you are doing that much work for the studio you deserve some degree of compensation, and everything should be above board. Gone are the days apprentices are treated like free labor. You are a person, you have value, and you do work for the studio. That mans you deserve to be compensated accordingly.

As an apprentice you are sometimes in a tricky position. Making it in your dream industry seems like all that matters- and you are willing to endure anything to make your dream a reality. But that doesn’t have to be the case. You are still a beautiful human, deserving of respect, deserving of a quality education, and deserving of compensation for your work. Don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of, abused, or belittled. There are hundreds of studios out there focused on training people correctly and treating apprentices like an asset to the studio rather than a “shop bitch”. Stand up for yourself, and demand the training you deserve!

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