Lynn Thomas and Shawn Conder lead the PSI National Barber and Cosmetology Program team. They are also licensed cosmetologists, for 34 years and 40 years respectively. With Lynn being a former salon owner and examiner, and Shawn serving as a past instructor and school owner, the pair relate to the challenges almost anyone in the field of cosmetology licensure might be facing – because they’ve been there themselves.
The world of cosmetology is changing in the US, in part driven by directives from the government. So, it seems like a perfect time to chat with Lynn and Shawn about this transformation and what it might mean for individuals and organizations in the sector.
Let’s start with the basics. Why does cosmetology need to be licensed?
Barber and cosmetology licensure is built on health and safety. This isn’t about bureaucracy or box checking – it’s about keeping clients and licensees safe. At the same time, the goal is to reduce barriers for those with ambitions to become licensed.
PSI exams, for example, are designed to ensure individuals are competent to use potentially dangerous tools and are aware of vital infection control procedures. This knowledge is assessed in theory and practical exams to make certain a licensed practitioner meets today’s evolving public health and safety standards.
Given the current pandemic, it is more evident than ever that proper health and public safety protocols are necessary to protect individuals throughout the professional beauty industry.
How does licensure currently operate between states?
Currently, each state has its own barber and cosmetology program, with its own exams and a state-specific license to practice for those that pass. There’s a lot of disparity between states with widely different study hours involved and inconsistent content. This means that candidates in some states are being examined on things that aren’t relevant to their field while others are not – such as the bones in the hip joint for cosmetology candidates.
A significant impact of the current system is that licensees need to requalify if they relocate across state borders regardless of level of experience. There are individuals who have worked in the field for 35 years and have been forced to complete an apprenticeship to requalify in a different state.
How is this state-based approach changing? And why now?
There is a move towards a national approach, which isn’t news in itself. There have been steps in this direction for some time, but things are still very much up in the air.
However, one of the groups most adversely affected are military spouses. Many are qualified in barbering or cosmetology and are, of course, likely to move regularly when a spouse is stationed in another state every few years. The Department of Defense has campaigned on this issue and President Biden recently flagged it as an important area for action in a recent speech.
Where does PSI come into the picture?
PSI has developed a battery of national examinations for all barber and cosmetology related disciplines, including manicurists, estheticians, hair braiders, waxing technicians, and electrologists. It’s a first for PSI and an examination that is assessed at this level is a first for the nation.
Our national program allows state governments and regulatory boards to assess practitioners’ skills – and the salons in which these services are performed– in infection control and public safety to the highest level. This includes written theory and practical exams that ensure candidates have enough knowledge and experience to practice safely and competently.
What makes the PSI solution so different?
PSI has a vision for a national program with a uniform exam and a national license. Our team of expert psychometricians makes this a reality by creating exams equal in value regardless of whether they involve hair, nails, or skin care. This means states can feel comfortable accepting a license wherever it was earned. One that covers safety and infection control to the required level.
In addition to psychometricians, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) were involved from across the US. Together they collaborated on exam content and provided input from across the nation, making this a truly national exam.
What’s more, technical solutions developed by PSI protect the integrity of theory and practical exams and their related materials. This includes online proctoring, where a remote proctor observes a candidate using their webcam and microphone to prevent and detect malpractice. A secure lockdown browser also precludes candidates from copying and pasting or accessing other websites during their exam. This is important to note as both the theory and practical examinations from PSI can be administered from the comfort of the test taker’s home.
How does this benefit candidates?
Aside from a national exam removing the need to requalify, online practical exams take a lot of the anxiety out of a very stressful situation. Lynn notes that her most memorable days are having her children and taking her cosmetology exam! As qualified cosmetologists, both Lynn and Shawn know first-hand that taking a licensure exam is one of the most important days of your life. It should be exciting, not traumatic.
How does your personal experience help you navigate this changing territory?
Henry Ford once said, “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” We understand the industry and why there might be a reluctance to change. However, change is coming, and that change will benefit candidates as well as individual states. The team here at PSI – who is licensed in several states – is well placed to navigate this change into something that works for everyone.
Lynn Thomas is the Account Management Director, Cosmetology Services at PSI and has been with the company for 13 years. She has been a licensed cosmetologist/barber for over 34 years and carries an active license in five states. Lynn has extensive experience in many different roles within the industry, including salon owner, examiner for practical examinations, and trainer to over 200 examiners across the country for practical exam administrations. She has also participated as a subject matter expert on a national level for all related cosmetology/barber examinations. Additionally, she has spoken at cosmetology/barber conferences such as TIVA, CIPS, and instructor symposiums in several states. Lynn is a member of PBA, FARB, NABBA, and the local chapter in her home state of Utah for Women in Leadership.
Shawn Conder is an Account Manager for Cosmetology/Barbering Services and the PSI National Cosmetology/Barbering Advisory Board Chairman. Throughout his tenure in the cosmetology industry, he has obtained multiple licenses within the beauty field. His career has included salon owner, educator, public speaker, and subject matter expert for examination content and textbook review. He has served in various roles which include working alongside nearly all state boards of cosmetology, barbering, and body arts throughout the United States as well as providing training to trade schools – both public and private – for their state’s examination processes and continued education. He is an advocate of beauty licensure and has worked with many national and state committees on projects to protect the future of licensees in the beauty industry.