How to get a Good Apprenticeship- and Why They are Hard to Come By
Updated: Jan 5, 2022
I get asked about becoming a piercer all the time. And my answer never changes- the only way to become a great piercer is an apprenticeship. And not just any apprenticeship- a good one. Bad apprenticeships are a dime a dozen but that won’t get you very far in the industry, and will often only lead to you hurting clients or doing bad work. And I’m assuming if you want to become a piercer you don’t want to be a bad one. So let’s talk today about why good apprenticeships are harder to come by- and what I personally would do to get one.
Why is a good apprenticeship hard to find?
A good apprenticeship is a major investment from both studio, mentor, and apprentice. They take 2-4 years to complete, and most mentors and studios only take a single apprentice at a time so they can focus on training them correctly. Apprentices work reasonable hours, are paid a living wage, and often have benefits. The time needed to train an apprentice takes time away from a mentors usual tasks and piercings, and the time investment alone is massive- not to mention the money investment in paying an apprentice while the mentor simultaneously has less time for piercings and clients. And, usually once an apprentice finishes their apprenticeship, they transition into a full time piercer at the studio.
This means a few things-
-Good apprenticeships happen at good studios. As many folks know, good studios are few and far between compared to low quality studios.
-Good apprenticeships take 2-4 years, and most studios can only support one apprentice at a time. Meaning not only are their a limited amount of studios offering good, quality apprenticeships, but those studios will be limited to offering a good apprenticeship only once every few years.
-Piercers need experience before mentoring. 10 years at least piercing full time is my personal suggestion for timeframe before being ready to teach. Meaning the amount of piercers actually qualified to have an apprentice and teach them is also lower than you might imagine.
-Apprentices need a job once they finish their apprenticeship- they usually transition into a full time piercer at their studio. That means a studio needs to have the clientele and need for another piercer when their apprentice is finished. So even if a studio could train one great apprentice every 2 years, if they don’t have the need for that staff, it would be unethical for them to bring someone on. Meaning it’s often even more rare for good studios to take on apprentices.
This leads to good apprentice positions being rare, coveted, and highly competitive. When good studios do open for apprentices, they can sometimes receive hundreds or thousands of hopeful apprentices. But they can only hire one.
If good apprenticeships are so hard to find, should I just settle for any apprenticeship I can get?
Absolutely not. Bad apprenticeships are sadly easy to find, but they are bad for a reason. You are taught incorrectly, with bad jewelry, and you learn bad habits. You hurt people, by doing bad piercings. You scar people. Sometimes you hurt clients so severely that that follows you for your career. And having to unlearn bad habits and training is much harder than being trained correctly from the start. I say this as someone who had 3 apprenticeships, 1 of them bad. As soon as I realized I was being trained and taught incorrectly I quit, left the studio, and found a second better apprenticeship. If I could have just held out and waited for a great apprenticeship from the start, I wouldn’t have had to unlearn so many bad habits. Ultimately, it took me 4 years and a cross country move to land my final, quality apprenticeship. And I wish I had just held out for that from the start.
How do I find a good apprenticeship then?
Well, first, you need to find a good studio. Check out my blog posts here about finding a good piercer and studio. Start learning which of the piercers in your area are good or not. Once you’ve figured that out, I would visit the different good studios. If you can afford to, get pierced at them. See how the piercers work, the things they do. See which experiences you liked the best, which you didn’t. What spoke to you. There are different ways of piercing and being pierced, different approaches to piercing and bedside manner. You ideally want to find a mentor who piercers in a way you want to pierce. I know the financial investment of getting many piercings is hard for many, and I don’t have a good answer to that alas. Being able to afford to get pierced by different piercers at different studios before your apprenticeship will give you a leg up. It will allow you to explore different styles and ideas about piercings, different ways to pierce, and help you make a more informed choice about what type of apprenticeship works for you.
That being said, that should be the only leg up having money gives you. The ability to explore different studios and piercers, even with simple affordable piercings and jewelry is powerful. And in general you probably want to get a few piercings before you decide if being a piercer is the right job for you. Sadly studios can’t pierce people for free just so they can see if piercing is the right career for them or if this studio is a good fit for them. But beyond that, a studio should not prioritize clients because of how much they spend or if they always buy expensive gold pieces. If a studio does do that, it’s unethical, classist, and shameful. A client can be a regular and a great candidate for an apprenticeship and get simple piercings with quality simple titanium for 40-70$ which I personally find to be very reasonable.
If you can’t afford to be pierced, you can still come in and look at jewelry, meet the staff, express interest in being pierced eventually and in apprenticeships. You can get to know piercers online by commenting on social media, sharing posts from the studio, and asking about what they do post. You can come in to see new jewelry collections, meet guest artists, get checkups on existing piercings, or have photos taken of any healed work you do have. There are lost of other great ways to network and be a regular that don’t include money.
If you don’t live near any quality studios, you may need to plan to travel. I would research and find what quality studios were the closest to me, and when I was ready to be pierced I would make a day of it and travel to the nearest quality studio. Maybe call ahead and express that you are potentially interested in a future apprenticeship and coming from far, and see if you can book an appointment with extra time to talk with the staff and learn more. I would do this as often as money and time allowed for me to.
Once you have found good studios, gotten some piercings, and decided piercing is truly for you, you should be realistic with what your choices are. When I was trying for my apprenticeship I was a client in philly, and I saw 5 different studios and great piercers and had my eye on 3 I really liked. All were honest with me that they would not be hiring an apprentice in the next 3-7 years. So, I got a job stocking shelves at Walmart overnight. It allowed me to have my piercings, paid my bills, and paid enough I could keep getting pierced. It also paid enough I could save money to relocate to an area with an apprenticeship I could get sooner. Relocation is a reality for many people serious about having an apprenticeship, and many folks do end up moving across the country for an apprenticeship. If it seems it may be that way, I would start saving up sooner then later.
This entire process of networking, learning, and getting piercings can often take years. I know it was about 3 years before I got my first apprenticeship. A good apprenticeship is very much like wanting to play in the NFL or other major sports. There's many, many people who want the same thing, but a very limited amount of slots open. What will you do to set yourself apart, and how patient will you be with trying for those positions?
So is there anything I can do in the mean time since getting a good apprenticeship takes time?
Absolutely! Since apprenticeships don’t happen overnight, and usually take months or years to get, there’s plenty of things you can spend your time doing in the mean time to make yourself a good candidate for an apprenticeship.
Work Retail- piercing is a retail and service industry- you are going to be working with the general public, selling a service. And it comes with many of the drawbacks of working retail as well- dealing with the general public. This is difficult- I have been screamed at, cursed at, threatened, had people be nasty and disrespectful. It is a sad reality of working retail and something previous retail prepared me for. But retail also has amazing experiences of building connections with regulars, helping people out, and making their day. Previous jobs at places like clothing stores, Coffee shops, and other retail jobs have absolutely prepared myself and others for the experiences in a studio.
Basic training- there is some basic training for this you can do before your apprenticeship. The red cross offers great first aid, CPR, and bloodbourne pathogens trainings which can be taken regularly. They are often offered every month or two at local community centers, YMCA, or community colleges. All of these classes will be necessary for an apprentice, so you can get a head start on them now.
Learn learn learn- you can learn a lot about piercing before ever starting your apprenticeship. I have have a body modification media list on my blog with lots of good suggestions of different books, movies, podcasts, and zines about piercing. Modern piercing, historic piercing, ritual piercing. From technical knowledge to historical mention to just fun photo books. You can teach yourself abut the history of piercing, modern brands and jewelry, and more before ever joining a studio. I know I spent hours in forums on fb and instagram learning jewelry brands and names before I started in a studio.
Grow related skills- piercers are often more then just piercers. We are photographers, who take pictures of our work and jewelry. We are social media managers, who post our work, grow our following, and attract new clients. We are businessmen, who pay taxes, balance budgets, and budget for studios and orders. We are gemologists with knowledge of gemstones and jewelry to help assist clients. We are artists, with understanding of color theory, composition, and flow to design beautiful ears and pieces of jewelry. Working on expanding any of those skill sets will prep you for an apprenticeships and make you a more appealing candidate.
Apprenticeships, good, quality ones, take time to find and time to complete. A good apprentice candidate understands this and is willing to wait for a great apprenticeship, rather then settle for anything that’s ready. That’s the kind of mentality and drive that also breeds a great piercer. If this is your dream, the commitment starts early. The industry has a shortage of amazing, well trained piercers, and we need more who appreciate what goes into being a safe piercer and are willing to make that their reality.
A Letter to New and Aspiring Apprentices