Speaking before a high-level audience of educators from government and TAFE was a breeze for stylish Stephanie Kotsos. The Melbourne Polytechnic student was at the Skills First conference to talk about her training and career experience, and although she’s not long out of high school, there was a lot to tell.
Stephanie has nearly completed her studies towards the Certificate III in Hairdressing, with just a couple of assessments to go, but it was her path to get to where she is today the conference wanted to know about.
Stephanie admitted to not liking high school much, so although she thought she might like to maybe be a primary school teacher she couldn’t face the thought of VCE then years of university.
‘In the end all I wanted to do was get out there and work,’ Stephanie says. ‘I decided last minute to go to VCAL and try beauty.’
She completed the Diploma of Beauty Therapy at another beauty education provider and ‘I really enjoyed it, I loved working with people, I loved doing all the massages, the facials, pedicures, manicures, absolutely anything and everything to do with beauty’.
While there she came first in the regionals of WorldSkills, the ‘Olympics of vocational training’ then fifth in Australia, also doing a stint as a judge the following year.
Somehow she managed to fit in studying the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment during that time too.
With her new beauty qualification, she set herself up with a mobile beauty therapy business, with clients in her home, their homes and once a week at one of five retirement villages, where the residents line up for her beauty services.
‘It helps them feel good and makes me happy,’ she says.
She also had jobs at Ella Bache beauty salons and a day spa, and has mixed it up with a casual gig at Bunnings - ‘I’ve been there almost six years, it’s fun and that’s where you learn all your customer service and how to talk to people.’
Stephanie hopes to combine her new hairdressing skills with her love for beauty and get right back to full-time work as soon as she completes her course.
‘I love my beauty, I’d never give that up but I thought that maybe it would be a good opportunity to expand on what I do,’ she says of her studies.
‘It’s fun, my work does not feel like work to me and I think that’s important for everyone to know.
‘Now so many people have a career change, we are lucky enough to be in a country that supports that and I said that on stage.
‘I would definitely recommend this course to absolutely anyone that’s interested in doing hair. My teachers are amazing, I love them so much, it will be sad not to see them every day.
‘They are so supportive to everyone.’
One of Stephanie’s beloved teachers is Nimmi Bhatt, who also has her own hairdressing business, along with strong industry connection she brings in for her students.
Nimmi says not a lot of people do both hair and beauty as Stephanie now can. They used to 20 to 30 years ago, but now salons have separate areas managed by different people.
And it’s hard to describe a typical student in Melbourne Polytechnic Certificate III Hairdressing. They range in age from 18 to 60, the young right out of high school and the more mature who want a change in career.
‘A lot now want to open salons at home because it gives them access to managing family and having a career for themselves.’
Nimmi says the course offers flexibility which is a huge incentive for students. – with full-time, part-time and apprenticeship pathways on offer.
It is also a very inclusive environment, with teachers responding to students’ needs by curtaining off a small area in the salon with two stations and a shampoo basin so students and clients whose faith doesn’t allow them to show their hair to male students in the class can feel comfortable.
‘So we have this area that has been such a relief for the students who otherwise can’t participate in classes,’ Nimmi says.
Melbourne Polytechnic hairdressing students also have access to connections with a homelessness unit offering free haircuts, and with bridal industry expos, styling the models.
‘There is so much extra that we give our students, I think it gives them a well-rounded education,’ Nimmi says.
‘I love teaching at Melbourne Polytechnic. We're student-centric, we really think of our students.’