What did you want to be when you grow up? When I was younger I wanted to be an artist- a painter, a sculptor, a photographer. I wasn’t sure which, I just wanted to create art. Some kids want to grow up to be doctors. Others dream of playing pro sports, or being a prima ballerina. Whatever the dream is, many of us grow up and realize there are some realities to our dreams that make them far more difficult than our young selves realized. I realized quickly that art was a very difficult career to make a living in. My vision of a painter in her studio all day was not very accurate, I was more likely to spend my days in a cubicle behind a computer screen designing cereal boxes. Those who dream of playing for the NFL quickly realize that its intensely competitive- thousands and thousands of players every single year fighting for a handful of open spots. Law school? Just as competitive. Med school? The same.
Many of the careers we find ourselves aspiring too are cut throat. For each of us dreaming of this path there are a dozen others with better resumes, better transcripts, and better extra curriculars. We realize we have to set ourselves apart from the competition in order to achieve these dreams. We need to be better, smarter, faster, stronger. For some, this realization is enough of a reason to perhaps consider a different career path. For others it’s simply motivation to push on, try harder, and dream even bigger. You may be wondering… how this relates to piercing?
Well, piercing is incredibly similar to a lot of these careers I mentioned up above. It’s a deeply deeply competitive industry. There are only so many studios who are equipped to take apprentices on, and only so many piercers who are able to. For each studio and piercer, there’s dozens if not hundreds of applicants for apprenticeships. Despite this level of competition, there is a strange level of entitlement when it comes to getting into this industry that doesn’t seem to surround things like joining the NFL or becoming a doctor. I began noticing this a few years ago, and with the rise of TikTok and social media I have only seen it grow.
Many folks seem to think they are entitled to a piercing apprenticeship.
I spend a lot of time educating about apprenticeships, how to get into the industry, and how to be safe doing so. See, the apprenticeship system is a flawed system. There are definitely areas where it needs improvement. Some valid critique of the apprenticeship system includes issues with sexual abuse, financial abuse, wage theft, illegal payment practices, unrealistic hours, accessibility, and equity. I’ve actually talked about a number of these issues at length here on my blog, on my YouTube channel, and on other social media. The apprenticeship system absolutely needs some improvement.
However, one of the biggest complaints I see online especially on social media is that apprenticeships should be easier to get. I see people who, if I am being honest, are probably not the best candidate for an apprenticeship complaining that they aren’t being given one. As a manager of a studio I fielded apprenticeship inquiries for my time there. We would have people who had never been to the studio, never come in to meet the staff and see how we operate, send us emails asking for an apprenticeship. Canned emails that they were emailing to every studio in the area- some honestly admitting they didn’t care who trained them they just wanted an apprenticeship. When we would respond that we already had an apprentice and weren’t currently hiring a few of these folks demanded to know why we wouldn’t take more than one at a time, or went online to complain about no one hiring them.
Imagine if someone emailed every team in the NFL asking to be a quarterback- someone who didn’t come to any tryouts, any practices, who had no resume or record to show. Who didn’t even want to come in for an interview. And then complained that it should be easier to play for the NFL. We would think that was absurd. But when people say the same about piercing, or even tattooing, it’s supported.
And when people online are complaining it should be easier to get an apprenticeship they aren’t saying things like “apprentices should be paid a fair living wage for their labor, and this would make it easier for people of all backgrounds, financial situations, and abilities to become an apprentice.” That’s an entirely valid statement I support. But no, folks are saying “I would totally work unpaid to become an apprentice, I’m not worried about unpaid apprenticeships, but there’s no studios near me hiring or they only take one person at a time. I don’t understand why they can’t take two or three and apprentice all of us. I don’t understand why I am not being given an apprenticeship.”
See, there are valid critiques about the accessibility of apprenticeships that can be made. But I don’t actually think that apprenticeships should be easier to get in this sense. It does take a specific person to become a piercer. If you are completely antisocial and hate talking to others, you will not do well as a piercer. All we do all day is talk to clients, help them feel comfortable and safe, and guide them through their experiences. If you can’t be respectful of the human body, and accept that we will work on all body types, and with everything that comes with the body (from scars and stretch marks to odors and fluids) then you aren’t a good fit to be a piercer. If you just think piercing is “cool” and don’t want to take the time to learn about the spiritual and historical aspects of piercing, and put in the work and effort to decolonize piercing, then you aren’t a good fit to be a piercer. And, to be honest, if you can’t be punctual, diligent, and committed, if you would struggle to leave your personal issues at the door and show up for your clients every day. If you can’t be on time, keep up with the pace of the studio, and put in the effort to learn the “boring” things like sterilization and sanitation, then you wouldn’t be a good fit as a piercer.
And I have met many people who were incredibly passionate about piercing, and very very committed to being in the industry, but who lacked the above qualities. People who desperately wanted to pierce but hated talking to folks and openly expressed they’d want to interact with clients as little as possible. Clients who were late to every single appointment they had ever made with the studio and often forgot ID, who were confused why they weren’t chosen when we were hiring. And people who applied whose love of piercings was clear, but whose social media pages were filled with body shaming memes. These same people then became irate when the opportunity was not given to them. Some turned to social media to complain that the industry needed to be more accessible and change. They derailed conversations about actual issues like wage fraud and abuse to rant about how they deserved to apprentice too.
Simply wanting to be a piercer or being passionate about the industry isn’t enough. It’s not enough in nearly any of the very competitive fields out there, be it medicine or sports or law. And I think that’s ok. It does take a certain person to do any of these careers and there is steep competition to do so. If we want to discuss issues with equity when it comes to these competitive fields that’s an important conversation to have. But what distracts from real issues is arguing simply that less qualified people should be handed the same opportunities.
I think piercing (and by extension tattooing) has issues with accessibility and equity with getting into the industry. I also think a number of people looking to get into the field have an issue with entitlement and are derailing important efforts made to improve that accessibility. Piercing is not just a “cool fun job”. Being a piercer also means gaining a near-medical understanding of sterilization, skin preparation, and cross contamination. It means becoming comfortable with the human body and everything that comes along with that- scars and stretch marks and odors and bodily fluids and boogers. It means showing up for your clients every day- even when you are tired or sad or having a bad day, it means putting that aside to be kind and gentle and warm to everyone who sits in your chair. It takes passion to pierce, but it also takes a whole other host of skills. If you are serious about getting into this field, you need to work to set yourself apart from other applicants and to have all of those skills needed.
And if you feel strongly about the accessibility issues in the industry, there are things you can do to help! The biggest thing is to become aware and educated on wage and employment laws in your area, and to help share this education with other aspiring piercers, apprentices, and current piercers near you. Hold your local studios accountable to pay their staff living wages, and support studios that do. Support survivors of abuse and support community efforts to keep them safe. These are all real things you can do- not complain about not being handed an apprenticeship on the internet.